How to Know the Difference Between Effective Management and Micromanagement

How to Know the Difference Between Effective Management and Micromanagement

All managers want to be effective: after all, the better they help their team perform, the better it makes them look to those supervising them. Unfortunately, the more pressure they feel on themselves, the more they start to exert on their employees until they find they’ve become a micromanager who doesn’t trust their employees.

While the title of this article is a little misleading – both are effective, after all – a micromanager is less effective. They might get things done perfectly on the first attempt 100 percent of the time, but chances are they’re also getting less done. There’s a reason it’s good to make mistakes: we need to make them to learn from them, and a good manger is one that allows us to make mistakes and explains the issue rather than just fixing it themselves.

1. What makes someone an effective manager?

A good manager helps their team get their work done as quickly and as well as possible, minimizing the risk of anything being subpar. They tell their employees what to do, give them an idea of the bigger picture, and then leave them to do things their own way while still making themselves available if needed.

2. What makes someone a micromanager?

This clip by The Soderquist Center is a parody of what an extreme micromanager might look like: hovering over his employee’s shoulder worrying about what font he’s using rather than being in his office, happy that he’s given sufficient guidance and is about to receive a satisfactory end result. While micromanaging might result in a perfect piece of work, it will likely have taken twice as long and the manager will find that he’s been neglecting his own work.

3. What's the difference?

The word "micro" comes from the Greek word for "small." When defining them on paper, the difference is simple and obvious: a manager focuses on the big picture, deals with problems as they arise and keeps themselves distant but available, while a micromanager gets involved in every little detail to the point that they’re actually slowing things down. Of course, like with most things, it’s not as easy to apply definitions to real life, which leads to the next point...

4. Are you a micromanager?

It’s an easy test: consider what you did at work today. If a lot of it was work that you should have delegated – or did delegate and then snatched back – then you’re micromanaging. If you’re spending all your time watching your employees rather than doing your own work, you’re micromanaging.

Here’s a simple test: which one sounds more like you?

  1. Towards the end of a day where you’ve been dealing with extra tasks on top of your usual responsibilities, an employee comes up to you and offers to help. You tell them what they can do, how to do it, and then go and get on with something else.
  2. Your employees are required to shred all their paper at the end of the day, and you get into the habit of staying late to put the pieces back together and then scold someone for doing it wrong.

I’ll give you a hint: if the second one sounds acceptable, you’re definitely a micromanager.

5. How to stop micromanaging

Even parents have to learn to step back and let their children make their own mistakes: see your employees as your children, and let them try. They might surprise you, and you’ll find you’ve been worrying about nothing. If it does go wrong, first make sure that there truly is a problem by asking yourself:

  • Is it a small problem that I can quickly fix myself? If yes, do so, and mention it to the relevant employee if it’s likely to recur.
  • Is it wrong, or is it just not the way I would have done it? If the latter, leave it – and the employee – alone.

If you find that your close supervision really was justified, resist the urge to go out there and gloat, and consider two things:

  1. Am I the problem for not giving adequate guidance? If yes, get back to your office and prepare for a meeting in which you give them better advice, or call in the specific person responsible to talk about what they did wrong – you might even find that their method is better if you give them a chance to explain it. Employees are not mind readers, and the fastest way to make everyone happy is to share the secret of how to get it right.
  2. Is employee X the problem by not being up to the job? If the same employee keeps making the same mistakes no matter how much you try to help them, then perhaps it’s time to decide whether to retrain them or fire them: would they improve with training, or are you destined to forever redo their work?

Are you a micromanager, or do you work for one?  Do you disagree that it’s less effective, or have some tips on how to deal with it? Let us know in the comments!

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