Diagnosis: Micromanagement? Here’s how to cure it!

Linh Tran, Monday 10 January 2022 | Reading time: 6 min.

Many project managers and executives feel as if they are being eaten up by day-to-day business. But for some people in positions of responsibility, the problem is (at least partly) self-inflicted. The diagnosis: micromanagement.

Are you a micromanager?

Are you a micromanager? If some or any of the following statements apply to you, you probably are:

  • The majority of your work time is spent on day-to-day operations.
  • You have been promoted from subject matter expert to manager, but you still have the most expertise in your field within the company.
  • You believe that as soon as you don't take a closer look, everything gets out of hand.
  • If you don't get status updates on a project at frequent intervals, you get restless.
  • You are often forced to skip some hierarchical levels in order to fix problems.
  • You not only set goals for your employees, but also the way to achieve them.

Micromanagers usually dwell too much on trivialities. Their workday is overloaded with detailed tasks and consequently they suffer from the negative consequences of multitasking. They jump from task to task, solving the problems of their team members at the same time.

Beware of thrashing!

With complex tasks that require expert knowledge, however, an interruption of just three minutes - due to a phone call, for example - means that it takes two minutes to return to the point at which the task was interrupted. If these interruptions add up in the daily work routine, the time loss can amount to up to 40% of the working time.

In IT, this phenomenon is known as "thrashing". In simple terms, this means that some operating systems spend more time jumping from task to task than they do executing the tasks themselves.

The permanent context switching thus results in costs that lead to considerable losses in efficiency - for humans as well as for machines. A study by Stanford University also shows that constantly flipping between tasks shortens attention spans.

In addition, managers never reach a state of flow - i.e., a very satisfying situation in which they devote themselves to a complex task with complete concentration and obliviousness. Due to these effects, the micromanager quickly becomes the bottleneck in the project team and feels stressed and overwhelmed at the same time.

Employee growth? Missing

But the team also suffers from this behavior of the manager. Employees can hardly prioritize tasks themselves, because they are rarely informed about corporate goals, but always have only the smallest goals in mind. Responsible action is also hardly promoted as a result - since the supervisor assumes all responsibility.

In return, the micromanager believes that they can' t trust their employees to set meaningful priorities or to work independently. This creates frustration, especially among well-trained team members, because the manager has little confidence in them and only lets them act "on a short leash".

At the same time, they do not develop creative solutions because everything is prescribed to them down to the last detail. Learning by making mistakes is also not possible because trial and error is not allowed.

Not to mention the effort and the associated costs that such a management culture causes: employees and managers alike have to spend a lot of time on queries, reporting, check-ins, etc. But how do you get out of this negative spiral and create freedom for yourself and your project team?

Moderate control

A purely laissez-faire approach is not the answer here. A certain amount of control is healthy for every project. Everyone knows about the instances of team members who convince themselves until the end of the project that they can make up for lost time. That's where a bird's eye cross-check often helps:

  • Managers should work with their team to set goals and milestones and explain to team members how the project will further the company's goals. This makes it easier for them to prioritize tasks themselves.
  • Micromanagers should consider what and how often they really need information about a project to make informed decisions. This makes it easier for them to recognize when queries only serve to calm their own nerves.
  • The ideal solution is to use software that provides real-time, up-to-date key figures at the push of a button. This means that you can often dispense with reporting and the associated time and effort.
  • Those responsible should determine with their team which monitoring measures make sense and at what times.
  • The classic key figures and target/actual comparisons are usually quite sufficient.

Projects cannot do without professional controlling, but this does not have to have a negative connotation. Often, praise is also appropriate when all the figures are positive and the project is progressing as planned.

Encourage employees instead of controlling them

Last but not least, micromanagers should try to invest the effort they put into detailed work better into the development and training of their employees. This costs time and nerves at the beginning, because team members initially do things differently and perhaps even worse than the manager themselves.

But only this approach offers the chance that a team member will learn to improve and, in the long term, develop into an expert in the relevant field who knows more about specific issues than their manager.



(Original Text in German; translation by Linh Tran)

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