Micromanagement – The Good, Bad, and Ugly

Micromanagement has nothing to do with caring about an employee.

However, it’s important to review the different phases of a business and the professional experience of an employee – along with the work environment.

What is Micromanagement?

According to Wikipedia’s sources :

In business management, micromanagement is a management style whereby a manager closely observes and/or controls the work of his/her subordinates or employees. Micromanagement is generally considered to have a negative connotation, but it is still commonly observed as an accepted management style world-wide.

Note the contradictory statement here.

Micromanagement is considered a bad practice – and yet, it’s generally a popular management style that is not prohibited in most organizations.

There are three possible cases:

  1. The company hasn’t defined a flexible working culture relying on results, creativity, productivity.
  2. The manager is a control freak and believes that micromanagement is the only way.
  3. The employee is inexperienced, problematic, new, or can’t adapt to the workplace.

1. The Protective Company

Some organizations – especially the older, corporate environments – often welcome a micromanagement style. It aligns better with some outdated practices that resemble the army – building outstanding discipline, reporting at all times, conducting a strict protocol.

Often, that isn’t the case with most startups or companies employing millennials as managers. They tend to implement different processes and take a unique approach toward the workforce.

When hiring hundreds of people every year, micromanagement is reported to reduce the gap between a new employee and the company culture, get up to speed sooner, or leave the company after a trial unless they can fit the internal policy.

The micromanagement model has various flaws and causes stress and pressure in the work environment.

2. The Micromanager

Even in a more open-minded organization, a micromanager may still play a rogue and force this managerial style to their subordinates.

It may be a purely noble act on their behalf as they see no other way. Or the manager may be a problematic person in the first place, failing to understand their staff and let them solve problems in the best possible manner.

A manager who can’t let their team work independently at times may very well turn off quality employees who want to proactively support the company efforts. Employing that manager is a decision that should happen on a higher level. Retaining one after multiple reports speaks about the company culture.

3. The Fresh or Problematic Employee

Micromanagement is also common for fresh employees who aren’t adjusted to the management culture. Trial employees – being a great example – have no clue about the internal workflows, the expected workload they are to deliver daily (or weekly), and how they compare to the rest of the team.

Same goes for employees that can’t hit their goals within the expected timeframes or with the desired quality. US companies often employ a Performance Improvement Plan strategy that serves as a final warning and gives a chance for, well, improvement. Some may consider that as a form of micromanagement that closely observes the behavior of PIP-assigned employees and rapidly evaluates their work with the corresponding feedback – helping them progress fast and get back on track if possible.

Those scenarios still vary from one organization to another. The type of work conducted also plays a major role – employees talking to customers directly may cause a bigger reputation impact on the organization (and may be subject to additional micromanagement in some cases).

The Role of a Project Manager

Frankly, management isn’t easy.

The management role is expected to satisfy the customer needs while complying with the company’s best interests while nurturing and professionally growing their team.

There are compromises and there are tough moments.

In an ideal world, management would not exist. We would still work in flat organizations:

A flat organization (also known as horizontal organization or delayering) has an organizational structure with few or no levels of middle management between staff and executives.

Flat Hierarchies In The Wild

Some startups have successfully implemented flat hierarchies in their workflow. It works great for them and they proactively preach that model worldwide.

But it gets harder the more the team grows. A flat organization requires each employee to possess:

  • Self-management skills
  • Deep interest in the business
  • Proactiveness
  • Steady motivation
  • Willingness to hit goals in no time
  • Genuine curiosity
  • Eagerness to grow professionally
  • Outstanding communication chops
  • Plenty of professional experience

When you hire hundreds of people a year (a valid case in large corporations), nailing that for each applicant is practically impossible.

Management in Large Organizations

It’s a form of utopia that only works in small, super-effective, condensed teams of 10–40 people, hardly close to a hundred. A large organization requires complex workflows and revolves around tons of activities worked upon simultaneously.

And measuring results is hard. It works just fine for certain professions – but most creative ones happen behind the scenes or require multiple iterations until you get that right.

We’ve tried to incorporate a flat hierarchy at DevriX which worked until we hit about 10 employees. With new hires on board, it became apparent that we require a better management model and refined workflows that would both deliver better results and give a chance for less experienced people to improve.

The 9 Circles of Management Hell

Unlike standard performance improvement plans, we have applied something that resembles the 9 circles of Hell from Dante’s Inferno. While we don’t literally put staff through hell for reduced performance, we do introduce different layers of management overhead when performance goes down or there’s another efficiency problem that we face.

The Strategic-Making Pyramid I

So we start with a simple notice, move to a reporting model that would scale to reporting twice a day. We may go over their tasks weekly – or daily, if required – and assign a mentor who would work closely with the employee. This may expand a few more times and eventually end with a final warning (or a termination) if things simply don’t work out.

In a nutshell, we discuss the work duties and requirements during interviews and carefully explain our core pillars and the business goals. If everything moves smoothly, employees can work fairly independently – including working from home, adjusting their working hours, taking occasional breaks and vacations outside of their schedule, or even work on internal projects. If they can’t hit the regular goals, we slowly apply various constraints in order to get productivity back on track.

It also lets us understand if our staff has problems at home, health issues, or anything else affecting their efficiency. Great team members get back on track immediately. Trials who aren’t a good fit are simply coached for a while until we part ways thanks to objective data and no hard feelings.

Handling Project and Team Management Properly

In any case, micromanagement has nothing to do with caring about an employee.

A manager could care about their staff even if they see them once every quarter – or even annually in large corporations. They could be passionate about their team and excited about their accomplishments. They may still conduct one-on-one meetings every now and then or review their work after hours.

A great manager who is genuinely interested in their staff can organize internal events (including after hour drinks), share the company’s wins with their subordinates, give a pat on the back whenever an employee had a contribution to a milestone, or conduct internal meetings for sharing feedback and suggestions. Micromanaging is hardly a good way to demonstrate that you care about your team.

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