Hell hath no fury like a micromanaged workforce

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Are you a micromanager? "Who me? No of course not. I'm thorough. I'm competent. Okay, so I am a little methodical. That's not bad...is it?" Micromanagers, like many addicts - alcoholics, rageaholics, workaholics, etc. - are the last people on the planet to recognize that their addiction is controlling others. The compulsion to look over your employees' shoulders has nothing to do with being meticulous or careful; it has everything to do with control. Yes you. That's right, I'm talking to you El Presidente. Your employees are calling you much worse. For example, they may be calling you a ruler, extremist, bureaucrat, tyrant, bully, persecutor or tormenter. And trust me, those are the nice names. People who micromanage do so because they are the ones who feel unsure and doubt their own abilities.

Ask yourself this: how badly do you long for more controlling people in your life? If you aren't dying to bring more oppressive autocrats into your life, what makes you think that your employees are dying to have you in their life?

You might wonder, "Well if I am so controlling, why is it that no one has ever mentioned it to me?" The answer is...they are afraid of you. Try telling a dictatorial boss to stop micromanaging you and plan on looking for a new job the next day.

Years ago, I gave a speech in front of 400 people. When the evaluations came back, 399 of them were rave reviews. One man rated me "average". The conference coordinator said she recognized the man's handwriting and told me that I should be comforted by knowing he rates every speaker poorly, and for him to give me an "average" was actually a good thing. Years later I have trouble remembering the 399 excellent reviews I received, but I will never forget the one average. Micromanaging is all about letting people know how they are doing it wrong. From your perspective as a micromanager I am sure you justify your behaviour by saying, "I am simply teaching people how to do it the right way." (Read: my way). But I assure you that most employees see it as negative feedback.

What if you aren't sure if you are a micromanager? If you are even pondering the question for a minute, you probably are.


1. First, admit you have this problem - it is key.

2. Second, take a really complete inventory of your work behaviour.

  • Do you frown during office jokes? (No one likes having a humourless boss around). Plus, who are you to judge or control what is appropriate. You are not the PC Police. You shouldn't get to dictate what is funny or not.
  • Do you criticize?
  • Do you seldom offer praise?
  • Do you double check people's work and always find at least one thing wrong?
  • Do you count paperclips?
  • Do you call the office while on vacation? (Regardless of whether it is true or not, everyone believes you are calling to see who is actually at work).
  • Do you come in earlier than your employees and stay later than they do? This induces guilt that no matter how late they stay, it will never be later than the boss. After a while they will give up and stop trying. If you can never win with your boss then why try?
  • Do you correct font size?
  • Do you check out their computer activity? This isn't being inquisitive; it is snooping.

Maybe you are saying to yourself, "Who cares if I micromanage? It works, doesn't it?" Studies have shown that, in fact, putting fear into people at work does have an impact. It increases productivity, however, that increase is only temporarily. Then you face dire long-term consequences. Employees will be so afraid of your constant criticism that they will no longer take risks. Creativity will dry up. Customer service will go down the drain, and employees will be looking for jobs behind your back.

If you are truly efficient then you should know that constantly hiring and training new workers is as inefficient as it gets.

Additionally, you won't see what's really going on because you are so busy dictating font size and controlling everyone else's moves that the big picture totally escapes you. You won't get your own job completed because you are doing everyone else's job. You will lose the respect of employees, and when workers don't respect their boss, you lose, clients lose, and the organization loses.

So after admitting you have the problem, you need to analyze exactly what you do that is micromanaging behaviour.

3. Apologize to your employees.

4. Get your workers to help point out to you when you are micromanaging.

Make it to their benefit to point out your micromanaging ways. These habits will not be broken with just you monitoring. Tell employees that you want to stop your controlling behaviour and that they have your permission and encouragement to tell you when you are micromanaging, and that you will listen with grace and not punish them for it. Make suggestions with humour. For example: "Okay gang, I know I have been the boss from the Dilbert cartoon, but from here on out every time one of you says ' Hey Charlie, there you go micromanaging again,' I won't get defensive. I won't justify my behaviour. I have to put $5.00 in a jar."

5. Empathize with your employees.

If you think back on your career you will no doubt remember bosses who micromanaged you. Sadly, we tend to imitate the stronger bosses, not the quality bosses.

6. Praise your employees.

If you haven't said thanks to your employees three times a day, I guarantee you aren't saying it enough.

7. Give up the concept of 'being right'.

Do you think your way is the right way? Again ask yourself, "How many know-it-alls are you dying to have in your life?" Nothing is more of a turn off than a boss who knows it all. It's arrogant. It's self-important. It's boring.

8. Allow mistakes to happen.

Do you abhor mistakes? Don't say, "I told you so" when the mistakes do occur. Applaud mistakes. Then you know employees are taking risks. When people don't get punished for risk-taking, then they will take more risks. Ask yourself which is more cost effective: allowing for mistakes, or, paying the price of angry employees who sabotage you? This can take many forms: bad mouthing you in the community; jamming up the office equipment; calling in sick just to escape you; or exhausted employees who can't function properly because of lack of sleep from worrying.

One day you might be the one applying for a job and someone you are micromanaging now will be sitting in the supervisory seat tomorrow. You seldom get to be the boss forever.

Julie Ireland is a professional speaker from Denver who speaks on the topics of humour in the workplace and office anger. She can be contacted through her website at www.JulieIreland.net or 303-894-0160.

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