One of the topics I have in my podcast episodes list is on “Creativity Enhancers and Killers.” I thought of this earlier this week when I read a Wall Street Journal article titled Micromanagers Miss Bull’s-Eye, which is also related to my previous episode, Leadership and Creativity.
In the article, the author, Cari Tuna, writes that frontline workers are often better at identifying problems and suggesting creative solutions to fix those problems, but when managers micromanage, employees become complacent. She writes of a company founder saying that when he micromanaged his team previously, his employees stopped making suggestions because they were afraid they’d be shot-down. Another company found their employees purposefully not following orders as they were resentful of the boss’s micromanagement.
Complacency…fear…resentment…yep, micromanagement sure sucks!
From the perspective of being micromanaged, I can only recall a couple of experiences. One was a boss who micromanaged only in certain things, every so often. It could be annoying, but overall no big deal. He’d do his bit of micromanagement on people and then leave us alone to get work done.
But I have had the experience of a CEO of the company I worked at who swooped down to my mid-level management position, sat in meetings with me and the folks I lead, and gave detailed instructions on what everyone was to do. Was I resentful? Resentful is too gentle a word. This was a creativity killer, morale killer, team killer, project killer. The CEO really had nothing better to do? Really??
From the perspective of micromanaging, it is kind of easy to micromanage a junior team member, though you may think of it as teaching. This is where you have to be mindful of exactly what it is you’re doing. Are you helping them learn something, or are you doing it for them? Maybe letting them make a mistake is a good way for them to learn, and maybe what they’re doing isn’t a mistake anyway, just a different way of doing something than you’d do.
Is there ever a case to be made for micromanagement? Is it ever the appropriate thing to do? I’m not creative enough to see it, I guess. If you want to make a case for micromanagement as a way to improve someone’s performance, be a real leader and give feedback and coaching instead. If you want to make sure that things just “get done right,” then don’t have employees and do everything yourself, or accept that you can utilize other people so you can focus on higher-level, better, more important things and let people do their jobs. If you’re using micromanaging as a way to force someone to quit, again, be a real leader, take responsibility that you made a bad hiring decision, and show them the door.
Tuna writes that the “best managers help employees learn to work independently by giving them meaningful responsibilities,” that managers “should give employees goals and leave them to work out the details”. Of course, there’s a place for feedback, coaching, and teaching, but NOT micromanaging.