Micromanagement: Is It Always a Bad Thing? Is It Sometimes Necessary?

Generally, micromanagement isn’t good behaviour and I’ve written about how to avoid micromanagement previously because of this.

However, there are times when you do actually need to micromanage your team or an individual. A newsletter subscriber emailed me to ask about this recently, posing the following challenge:

What to do when you actually need to go through a small period of micromanagement

Today, I want to address this topic and share some examples of times when micromanagement is a good thing and actually required.

What we mean by micromanagement

Before getting into the details, let’s briefly define what we mean by micromanagement.

Essentially, micromanagement is about control. When you micromanage someone or something, you’re taking full control when you shouldn’t do so. For example, if one of your team is accountable for a project but you then take over that project completely and control all aspects of it, you could be micromanaging them and the project.

The question then becomes – when is taking control appropriate and the right thing to do?

The truth is that there are times when micromanaging a project or an individual is the right thing to do. 

Yes, it should be the exception and not the rule, but there are absolutely times when you should do it.

When micromanagement is necessary

Right, let’s look at a few scenarios when micromanagement is necessary. I’m going to caveat all of these scenarios immediately by saying that all of them shouldn’t become “the norm” and should only be temporary.

Don’t make the mistake of letting the behaviours and scenarios that we talk about below become the default for how you manage your team.

Remember that micromanagement can not only be very hard for someone to experience, but prolonged micromanagement can lead to stress and even feelings of harassment if it goes too far. So please use caution.

No matter what scenario requires you to micromanage, you can use a simple approach to guide your actions by telling your team or an individual:

  • This is what we need to do.
  • Here is exactly how we’re going to do it.
  • And I’m going to get hands on with doing it.

Again, in normal times, you may help with these points but you’re almost certainly not going to control all aspects of them.

During other times when you need to micromanage, you can use these points as a guide.

When the consequences of missing a deadline outweigh personal development

There are going to be times when your team is working on a project and with a deadline looming, things aren’t right and they need a lot of help in order to hit the deadline. My usual advice here is to use these times as learning moments and managing the deadline so that it can be extended if possible. Quite often, deadlines are flexible as long as you communicate effectively with the relevant stakeholder.

However, there may be times when this simply isn’t possible and the consequences of missing a deadline are severe. For example, your company may lose a contract with a client if you miss the deadline. Or the company may lose the opportunity to make revenue around a key event such as Black Friday or Valentine’s Day.

In this scenario, the cost of missing the deadline is too high to allow for this to be a learning moment or experience for your team. Therefore, you need to get hands on and micromanage the situation in order to try and avoid the negative outcome.

When things get really, really hard and challenging across the team

Sometimes, your team may not be struggling with a specific project or deadline and instead, are dealing with lots of issues at the same time and generally not doing an effective job of staying on top of them. The compounding effect of this on your team may lead to a lot of stress and difficulties.

This may require you to develop a “war room” type mindset between all of your team where you come together to work through the various challenges that you’re experiencing together.

When this happens, you become one of the team and get hands on across multiple projects if needed.

Whilst not ideal in the long term, this short term “we’re all in this together” type approach can actually be beneficial. It can build trust and loyalty because it shows that when times get hard, you’re not afraid to jump in and help your team in whatever way you can.

During periods of intense change

Another scenario when micromanagement may be necessary is when your team (or wider company) is going through a period of intense change. There may not actually be any problems with their projects or day-to-day work, but there is something wider going on which takes up headspace and causes them worry or stress, leading to performance issues.

For example, perhaps the company has announced that they’re making layoffs/redundancies in other teams or departments. Despite this not directly affecting your own team, it can still create a feeling of worry or uncertainty that can affect their day-to-day work. Not to mention, they may have friends who are directly affected by the changes and this will be on their mind.

Depending on how the company is managing the process (there are ones that do a good job and others who handle it terribly), the process may be prolonged and cause more worry and stress than necessary.

If this happens, it may be appropriate to refocus your team on their work and to implement a degree of micromanagement to help them navigate through this period of change. 

How to mitigate the negative effects of micromanagement

If you do find yourself in a scenario where you need to micromanage your team or an individual for a short period of time, you’ll need to not only ensure that it comes to a clear end, but also ensure that you talk about it openly with them. This helps to mitigate any long-term, negative effects that micromanagement can have on your team. Here are a few ways to do that.

Tell your team that you’re doing it in advance

If you need to get more hands-on than usual, you should give your team a heads up on this and let them know what to expect, along with why you’re doing it.

I can give you a real example of this when I needed to get hands on whilst CEO of Aira a couple of years ago. I needed to get much closer to the day-to-day work that my senior team were doing, so on a call, I told them to expect this and that they’d probably see things such as me:

  • Asking more questions than usual about their areas of responsibility.
  • Offering to complete tasks that they’d usually work on without me.
  • Going deeper into data on my own and asking them questions about what I find.

I was clear that this wasn’t a reflection on them or the jobs they were doing and instead, was a result of the difficult situation that we found ourselves in as a company. This meant that they knew exactly what I was doing and why.

You should also be clear that this is a temporary measure and if possible, give a rough timeline on how long you expect to work in this way.

Discuss ways that you can avoid this situation in the future

Whilst not always possible, quite often you can reflect on a situation and learn how to avoid finding yourselves in the same situation in the future where you need to “step in” and get more hands on with the situation.

For example, if you needed to step in because of a looming deadline on a very important project, you can trace back the project to see where things started to go off track and figure out how to prevent this in the future. 

Reiterate your trust and desire for autonomy in your team

During this situation and afterwards, you should reiterate that this isn’t your preferred way of working and that generally, you trust your team to get their job done without you involved and would prefer to give them autonomy. 

This helps reassure your team that the reason you’ve stepped in is an exception, not the rule and that your principles of management still apply moving forward.

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