Back Off!

Micromanaging is toxic — here are 3 tips to help you stop today

Back Web Only Dec 19, 2014 By Kelly Azevedo

At my first full-time job after college, the office manager routinely sorted through the recycling box to ensure that tossed junk mail had been cancelled with the sender. If someone from my department did not write the cancellation clearly enough, there was a lecture. This culminated in a 20-minute rant and the ultimate request to track all incoming junk mail, date of cancellation and subsequent mail on a spreadsheet for review.

I refused. And then I quit.

Like most micromanagement, this type of behavior is not only time intensive but wasteful as well. For most micromanaged employees, it quickly became too frustrating to endure.

While it takes many forms, the typical micromanager will check in excessively, often peer over employees shoulders at a computer, ask for status updates constantly, challenge the decisions of subordinates and ask employees to do tasks over, often with insignificant changes.

Here are three painless ways to let go and stop stalking your employees on the job.

Create a regular check-in. Micromanaging a decision or process is not only obnoxious, but it translates a huge amount of disrespect for the employee that you’ve entrusted with the given task. But this doesn’t mean that you should  abdicate all responsibility as a business owner.

Every position should have oversight and review, and when those meetings are planned your employees should prepare accordingly. “Just checking in” on tasks can often feel like an ambush, which is not the environment you want to create.

Instead, set aside time to check in with each employee under your management and be clear about what you need to review during those times.

Action Step: Notify your team of this new policy with a simple email such as “Beginning next week we’ll have a regular Wednesday check-in for 15 minutes to review your current projects.”

Build a system. Micromanaging is about exerting control. It’s easily dressed up in language like “ensuring quality” and “work efficiency.” But people are not marionette puppets, and the more time you spend pulling the strings, the less time you have for more important business tasks.

Deep at the heart of the micromanager is fear. It’s uncomfortable to worry someone else will not have your standards for quality and cut corners. The best way to ensure uniformity is to build a system for how things are done in your business, from answering the phone to packaging products.

Your systems should evolve over time and can combine written text – especially for emails and formal letter templates – videos and even diagrams. Then, instead of standing next to an employee and asking about this and that, you can refer back to the system you’ve created.

Action Step: Identify the #1 task that stirs up worry and ask an employee to write out the system for that task today. Then you can refine it together and implement it in your business. Hint – if you create one new system at each week’s check-in meeting, you’ll feel more confident in no time!

Remember why they were hired: Hiring employees in any business is a process, especially when you’re so busy that having another set of hands feels like a god send. But if you spend all your time watching over those employees like a hawk, then you’ll forgo the benefits of having a team altogether.

Micromanaging employees is not just wasting your time and causing undue stress: It’s probably alienating your best employees. The people who show up reliably, work hard and take pride in their work get frustrated by the “looking over your shoulder” habit of others. It conveys a lack of trust and drives away good employees.

For me, the unreasonable request to track incoming junk mail was just the tip of the crazy iceberg in my experience. And once you’ve broken that trust, it becomes near impossible to repair.

So remember why you hired this person and what they bring to your business. Place your trust in your own judgment and the safeguards you have in place to ensure quality remains high.

If you really don’t trust this employee anymore, then it’s probably time for a change. 

Related: How to automate your hiring

Action Step: Before your first weekly meeting with your employees, take some time to consider each team member. Ensure you fully trust their skills and judgment as they pertain to given roles. If you do trust  your staff, give them space to work and consciously cut back on those micromanaging tendencies. If not, decide if it’s worthwhile to build your systems together and re-establish trust in the process.

So before you assign an employee to track junk mail or count paperclips, ask yourself how your business can make the most of their talents and skills in a meaningful way.  And if you’re currently stuck in the monotony of busy work, try using these magic words on your boss: “Do you have any documentation or systems that I can create?” It’s worth a try!

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