Why you are constantly distracted by minor tasks & how to end micromanagement

Kathrin Jungwirth, Tuesday 15 October 2019 | Reading time: unknown

Many project managers and executives feel overloaded by day-to-day business. For some people in responsible positions, however, the problem is (at least in part) homemade.  The diagnosis: micromanagement.

Are you a micro manger?

Are you a micro manager? If many of the following statements apply to you, that is likely:

  • The majority of your working time is spent on day-to-day business.
  • You have been promoted from specialist to manager, but still have the greatest expertise in your field within the company.
  • You believe that once you don't take a closer look, everything gets out of hand.
  • If you can't make status queries about a project at short intervals, you get restless.
  • Often you are forced to skip some hierarchy levels to fix problems.
  • You give your employees not only goals, but also the way to achieve them.

Micromanagers usually spend too much time on little things. Their daily work is overloaded with detail work and they suffer from the negative consequences of multitasking. They jump from task to task and solve the problems of their team members at the same time.

Beware of multitasking!

With complex knowledge tasks, however, an interruption of three minutes - e.g. due to a telephone call - already leads to the fact that it takes two minutes to return to the point at which the task was interrupted. If these disturbances add up in everyday working life, the loss of time can account for up to 40% of working time.

The permanent change of context thus results in switching costs, which lead to considerable losses in efficiency. A study by Stanford University also shows that zapping between different tasks shortens the attention span.

In addition, managers never get into a flow state - that is, the work situation that is perceived as very satisfying, in which they concentrate fully and devote themselves obliviously to a complex task. Through these effects, the micromanager quickly becomes a bottleneck in the project team and at the same time feels stressed and overwhelmed.

Do micromanagement and employee development fit together?

But the team also suffers from this behaviour of the manager. Employees can hardly prioritize tasks themselves because they are rarely informed about company goals, but always have only the smallest goals in mind. Even responsible action is hardly encouraged - since the manager takes over all responsibility.

In return, the micromanager believes that he cannot trust his employees to set meaningful priorities and to work independently. This creates frustration, especially with well-trained team members, because the manager has little trust in them and only lets them act "on a short leash".

At the same time, they do not develop creative solutions because they are given everything down to the last detail. Learning through mistakes is also not possible because trial and error is not planned.

Not to forget the effort and associated costs caused by such a management culture: employees as well as managers have to spend a lot of time on queries, reporting, controls, etc. But how do you get out of this negative spiral and how to create space for yourself and your project team?

Moderate control

Pure laissez-faire cannot be the answer here. A certain degree of control is good for every project. Everyone knows the cases of team members telling themselves by the end of the project that they can make up for lost time. A counter-check from a bird's eye view often helps:

  • Leaders should work with their team to set goals and milestones and explain to team members how the project supports the company's goals. This makes it easier to prioritize these tasks.
  • Micromanagers should consider which information and how often they really need input about a project to make informed decisions. This makes it easier for them to recognize when questions 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 touch of a button. This often eliminates the need for corresponding reporting and the associated effort.
  • Those responsible should determine with their team which controlling makes sense at which points in time.
  • The classic key figures and target/actual comparisons are usually sufficient.

Projects do not work without professional controlling. Nevertheless, commendation is often justified when all figures are pleasing and the project develops as planned.

Encouraging employees instead of monitoring them

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

But only this procedure offers the chance that a team member learns to improve and develops into an expert in the respective field in the long run.

Originally published in German in the projektmagazin blog on 23.02.2017: Diagnose Mikromanagement

Writer: Dr. Andreas Tremel

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