If you haven’t had a supervisor that has micro-managed you, take stock in the fact that you will at some point during your career. For those of you who have been micro-managed, you can appreciate the heightened level of frustration, angst and distress it causes. Being micro-managed is not merely about work-related distress – it also bleeds into our personal lives, which is called the “spillover effect." This can have negative ramifications on the relationships we cherish most (i.e., family, friends, etc.).
Far too often, when we bring our feelings up to our (micro)manager we are informed that “it’s not personal, it’s business,” which, minimally, dismisses our emotions as trivial while simultaneously justifying our supervisor’s behavior to micro-manage.
The reality is that business is intensely personal because we, as employees, absolutely want to contribute to something larger than ourselves, but we want to have the freedom and autonomy to do it the way we deem best. Allowing this, however, requires a (micro)manager to relinquish a measure of control. The irony here is that when a (micro)manager gives up control and gives their employees more power, it sets the stage for more success, not less. As with anything else, there is a better way.
Below are a few of the perils associated with a micro-managing supervisor. Each one brings with it a description of how micro-managing disenfranchises the recipient (employees) and how it can be overcome. While not an exhaustive list, each is instructive as to how managers can create a high-performing culture that leads to high-performing teams, departments and organizations.
1. Hiring Them in the First Place
Each year, organizations throughout the United States and the world spend tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars on recruiting, interviewing, selecting and hiring candidates. Thus, choosing the right candidate to fill a job opening is an incredibly expensive proposition. Hiring managers need to make sure the individual selected fits the job well.
What is baffling, however, is that far too many hiring managers select the candidate that they believe will perform at a high level, but once the new hire is brought on board, they micro-manage them to death. This makes no sense. Why go through the time and expense of hiring a smart, capable person to fill a role and then not let them perform their job without having someone looking over their shoulder all of the time? Why hire them in the first place?
Solving this problem requires the hiring manager to trust that they made the best hiring decision because the root cause of micro-managing employees stems from a lack of trust. The supervisor simply does not trust their own decision-making with whom they hired and subsequently, does not trust the employee to perform their job at a high level.
But what if we establish a foundation of trust and let our employees prove us wrong? What if we trust our decision to hire the best candidate, train them to be proficient at their job and get out of their way until they make a mistake? When we allow, even welcome, mistakes, we create a learning environment for the employee and a coaching moment for the supervisor. What we gain, as managers, in return is a tremendous amount of goodwill and we build a winning culture on a solid foundation of mutual trust and respect.
2. Dis-Empowerment and De-Motivation
At work, there is very little, if anything, more dis-empowering or de-motivating than being micro-managed. The reason for this is simple, as each employee knows that s/he was selected from a pool of qualified candidates and that s/he was selected for the job because of their skill set, aptitude, attitude, etc. The new hire knows that s/he can perform the job at a high level once s/he is properly trained. The employee knows that the contribution to be made will make an impact if s/he is given the freedom, flexibility and autonomy to complete the task.
All of this, unfortunately, gets stifled by a micro-managing supervisor who possesses an overwhelming need to control all aspects of the work being performed. By not relinquishing control and empowering their employees to leverage all of the attributes and skills that won them the job, the employee loses motivation to perform the job with the energy and effort level needed to perform the job well.
The nature of power in relationships is paradoxical. It is a concept that is rife with misconceptions. Accordingly, we only have “power” over someone when that person gives us said power, which is different than having “control” over someone. Understanding the former helps create winning cultures. Propagating the latter leads to losses. For example, when a manager empowers his or her employees to use their intellect and skill set to perform their job the way they deem appropriate, the employees perceive that their manager trusts them.
Once employees believe that their manager trusts them, they become more committed. From this commitment arises a sense of purpose and a desire to perform at a high level for the organization and most notably, the manager. In so doing, through empowerment and trust, the manager becomes more influential in the lives of his or her employees, which underscores the paradox of power. When power is given away, we get more power, or influence, in return. This is yet another way of creating a winning culture.
3. A Toxic Culture
Every organization strives to be high performing. It makes little sense for any organization to do anything that does not maximize its performance in the pursuit of achieving its mission and vision. Businesses realize their mission and vision by cultivating a high performing organizational culture. Unfortunately, an organizational culture, replete with micro-management, creates a level of toxicity that undermines its ability to maximize success.
Invariably, this “poison” infects all aspects of the business because it breeds employees that will comply rather than commit. When employees engage in malicious compliance, they are simply doing just enough box-checking to keep their micro-managing supervisor off their back. In no way is this a winning strategy because employees are not giving the supervisor or business maximal energy and effort. Once shared attitudes, values and beliefs become toxic due to a culture of micro-management, the likelihood of winning is severely compromised.
For an organization to achieve maximum success, it must build a high-performing culture built on empowerment, trust and commitment. This is easier said than done, as it takes considerable time, focus and commitment to build and maintaining a positive, productive relationships across and throughout an organization. The reality, too, is that building and maintaining a positive, productive relationship is an on-going, continuous process that, if not tended to, can erode a high-performing culture in an instant. Thus, creating a winning culture requires managers to serve their employees, provide them with all the tools and resources that will make them successful and avoid any behaviors that harm their employees.
Managers do this by first thinking of their role as a supportive, developmental one wherein they focus on improving the lives of their employees and making them better at their job. Next, managers must achieve employee commitment in the pursuit of achieving organizational success by building a culture through empowerment and trust. Finally, managers need to hold their employees accountable for their performance and not micro-manage or stifle performance. Winning is then born out of a high-performing culture.
Creating a winning culture takes a tremendous amount of time and energy and requires leaders and managers to remove all impediments that undermine the effort. Leaders and managers need to remove impediments, such as micro-management, in order to cultivate a high-performing culture built on trust, respect and commitment. Simply put, when you hire someone that is qualified to perform a job, let them. Train them to be proficient in their job, get out of their way and hold them accountable for their performance. The benefit reaped will be rewarding for everyone.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.