Micromanaging is often seen as a bad word and a bad habit – in many arguments, rightfully so too. People who micromanage are seen as terrible managers and people who are micromanaged rightfully lose their motivation. While all this is also backed by research results, I also feel one size does not fit all and sometimes, we also need to micromanage for the benefit of not only the system, but also the people themselves. Here are three kinds of people whom I think can benefit from micromanaging. The key though is, knowing when to stop. This is a result of some of the experiences I have had, and would love to hear your thoughts on the same.
People moving from unstructured environment to a process driven environment: As the organization moves from a start up to a mature one, it is critical that we set some processes that serve as principles of engagement and collaboration. A key trait of mature organizations is systems that are scalable. In a start-up, we might have worked day in and day out just to satisfy customers and help cash flow, but as the organization matures, I think it is critical to set some ground rules that serve as a basis of operation – a Standard Operating Procedure you might call. But these ground rules and processes can require a lot of re-iteration and hand holding initially. We cannot expect the entire organization to follow a process by just sending out mails to a few people. A new process also needs a lot of feedback to enhance it – thus making the system scalable. I don’t think it can happen fruitfully unless we micro-manage the process, and people who follow that process to an extent.
People who are under some kind of performance review: Periodically, many organizations put employees through some kind of performance review in case their performance does not meet certain levels of competency. While this is not done in a mature manner in many originations, I feel unless we micromanage these situations and people, we are actually doing injustice to them and the system. These are very sensitive situations that need some maturity to handle. We should neither be seen as tough task masters without humane considerations, nor weak managers who let bad performance pass by. Both will set employees for failure. For this to happen, I think we need to back the performance of the concerned employee with solid, authentic data. This quantification of performance is not possible unless we micro manage to an extent. If we just say an employee’s performance has been bad over let’s say, one year and they need to buckle up, we are actually putting the employee in wilderness. They neither know why their performance was bad, nor understand what is expected of them to scale their competence up. It’s a typical management jargon to say “feedback needs to be specific and action items followed through”, but can this be a justifiable exercise without micromanaging to an extent? I think it is gross injustice to the employee if we put them under performance review but not be specific enough on the plan of action and also not follow through them – in short periods that too. Without this, I feel a decision to either fire them, or retain them will both be subjective. And being 100% subjective in these situations is setting these people up for failure.
High performers who are groomed for the next level of responsibilities: Not just bad performers, but even high potential performers who are being groomed for the next level of responsibilities can benefit from a bit of micromanaging. Specifically, when people move from an individual contributor’s role to a leadership role, I feel it is vital they are hand held for some time to begin with. I feel one of the primary reasons for failure during this transition is expecting the team to do the same things we did – thinking it is the only right thing to do, given we have actually been promoted doing it – and benchmarking the team performance against our own as individual contributors. Guiding those people will only help them in the long run. But the key in this scenario is deciding what exactly we do to guide them. While in other cases, its simple micromanagement from the industrial era days, in this case, it’s more about giving those people tips, providing training tools, fixing accountability and escalation guidelines, etc.
As mentioned before, in all these instances, the key is, knowing when & where to stop. Understanding that and striking the right balance defines our own Leadership Maturity. What do you think? Is micromanaging bad irrespective of the situation or have I missed more kinds that can benefit from micromanaging?