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The Effectiveness-Lab

The tragedy of micro-management – series 1 of 2

How do we get the best out of people without breathing down someone’s neck, check on or want to know everything they are doing?

One umbrella, properly placed, can do the employee oversight job - deploy too many and you create dysfunction
One umbrella, properly placed, can do the employee oversight job – deploy too many and you create dysfunction

In our household, and believe it we live such a zen life, we have made a bold decision, to a certain extent forced on us by circumstances. That is to let our children be who they are. Based on the age of a child, we define up front and very clearly at that, where we would wish them to get in life, their operating boundaries, and only give parental guidance as and when needed. We let our children, get on with their business; this includes a child that is physically challenged with Cerebral Palsy (CP).

We don’t check our kid’s phones (because we give a phone only after a certain age and the older they get, the more advanced the phone gets), what they are doing on their PC or iPad, etc. A big gamble – many of you will say. But how much can we do to control and shape the destiny of our children, without damaging their trust in us? We have to trust them – or we risk losing their confidence in us, don’t we? We also have to be careful not to suffer from the ‘illusion of control’ and the self-satisfaction that accrues for those that like to control others.

You must be asking how our household management style gets linked to the tragedy of micro-management. Well, after reading an old HBR article Micro Manage at your Peril  – we could not help but ask ourselves why what we do as routine in a very simple ecosystem like our home, is elusive in the modern organization – we must also note that many bosses do not micro-manage.

We delved a little deeper into the subject matter and all reading we came across pointed to micro-management undermining staff productivity and retention.

So, what is micro-management after-all?

According to Professional-Growth-Systems, micromanagement is best defined as a pattern of over-involvement in operational details. It means needlessly slowing down the pace of progress, growth or improvement without adding any value. That is, the added oversight or approval step consistently fails to result in 1) avoidance of a mistake, 2) an improved strategy or action plan, 3) better execution or 4) a better outcome. Thus, the cost of the delay in making a decision is not offset by any gain. Ultimately, it is a lack of trust of one party in another to make sound decisions or effectively execute.

How can practice that many managers and leaders consider routine to their work – i.e. keeping an eye on what is happening below you (after all the buck stops with the managers and leaders) at the same time cause such pain to organizations?

The cost of micro-management: outlines five costs of micromanagement that we share below:

1. Undermines Opportunity

It takes you away from performing effective leadership activities. The opportunities to analyze and synthesize the major challenges facing your organization disappear under the radar, leaving their solutions undiscovered. It takes away employees incentive to contribute to your company’s goals and vision. Equally important is that you miss the opportunity to nurture future leaders in your company because you deprive them an opportunity to learn from their mistake or display their true potential.

2. Increases your cost of doing business

The time that you spend micromanaging is costly because your time, as a leader, is very valuable. Chances are that you are spending time to save less, specifically when you have to repeatedly check expense accounts. It is not cost effective for you to assign a duty to your employees and you end up double checking it over, and over again. Worst of all you end up redoing the same assignment because you think that no employee has the capacity to carry out the duty like you.

3. Lose Key [Staff] to your competition

Your best [staff] could resign and join your competitor …. Lack of trust is an issue with micromanagement. Your key employees will leave your company because no one wants to feel untrusted and unappreciated by their leader

4. High Employee Turnover

You could end up with high turnover of employees and find yourself continually training new employees. Training new employees to take over the slot for the departed employees is costly because of mistakes and decreased output associated with training a new employee.

5. Inferior Work
Your key employees could simply turn out inferior work because they know that you will double-check it over and over again––in other words, you take away their incentive to produce quality work by not instilling in them the trust that is required for them to be proud of their work.

Containing micro-management:

Now that we know the cost of micro-management to the organization – family, business, or other entity, how do we stop the habit? The Effectiveness lab provides a toolbox below that you can use to stop the habit

Before getting involved in a decision-making process, ask the questions below:

  1. Have you been invited to get involved directly? This is especially true if you are a Cc.: on the email
  2. If you have to get involved to save the situation, have you explained to the other party reason/s for your direct involvement?
  3. Have you got a good and definite view of the decision-making—map? (may your place still be ahead, i.e., escalation may be the route to your getting involvement)
  4. In line with three above, do you have a good reason not to wait for your decision point on the decision-making-map?
  5. Are you an expert in the subject matter?
  6. If working in a matrix structure, are you sure you aren’t usurping technical accountability of others in the matrix structure?
  7. Is your intervention adding value?
  8. Are you sure that your intervention is not simply delaying decision making and undermining the organization’s bottom line value or impact?
  9. Finally, is there no way of you checking-in later (see accountability pit-stops below)?

If the majority of the answers to the above nine questions are NO, then you may be micro-managing others and undermining productivity

There are better approaches that managers and leaders can deploy to remain effectively in control of those below them, and not micro-manage:

  • Define S.M.A.R.T work outcomes for staff you boss;
  • Assign a clear timeline to results (the T of SMART);
  • Establish a check-in system i.e. the equivalent of the Formulae-1 racing pit-stop, and for our purposes, we call this ‘accountability pit-stops;
  • And most of important of all, trust others!

Can you believe that a habit that kills employee productivity is so simple to cure?

What causes micro-management? Look out for blog series two next week


5 responses to “The tragedy of micro-management – series 1 of 2”

  1. […] in place an accountability mechanism – i.e. form a new year resolution accountability pit-stop group (a group of peers that gather every month to hold one another accountable to their […]


  2. […] remedy their failings without support. Even if the latter were true, there is no harm conducting ‘accountability pit-stops,’ just in case the team needs […]


  3. Dear Apollo… could have skype status stattement “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do……” The desire for excessive power and authority and lack of trust and inability to mentor and empower subordinates drives freak managers to micro manage employees. The defenders of micro management call themselves perfectionists who pay a lot of attention to details”. Excellently well written blog. Thank you.


    1. Dear Kairu – thanks for reading the blog; you have given part of the narrative for series 2 next week

      I wonder though if there could be some other reason for the obsession to monitor/control others by managers than the search for perfection…

      Another one for us to mull over during the week


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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