Sunday, December 1, 2013

Micromanagement (Part Two)

Neutralizing the micromanager — the one you work for, or the one inside you
W W W . N R P A . O R G   |   D E C E M B E R   2 0 1 3   |   Parks & Recreation

No matter how outstanding the organization, resources or team, a manager’s style can make or break its success. As discussed in “Micromanagement (Part One)” (, a micromanager can inadvertently breed lack of engagement, low morale and poor productivity for both staff and the organization.

If employees feel that they are not trusted to do the job they were hired for or that their experience and knowledge are constantly being dismissed and or trumped by their manager’s actions, eventually those employees will stop taking initiative or making decisions. The most organized, deadline-driven employee will suddenly seem to procrastinate — after all, what’s the point of completing a projector task in a timely manner when history indicates the micromanaging boss will take it over or assert a different direction before the employee is done anyway? Or worse, the boss will discard a completed work and redo the whole thing him- or herself.

If the descriptions above seem all too familiar, you may be one of the frustrated and disengaged, wondering why you keep coming back each day. Oh, wait…right — you love this job. You don’t want to leave; you just wish you could get your boss to change his or her destructive ways.

Managing Up
Authentic change in your micromanaging boss may or may not be possible but there are steps you can take to minimize the impact and block the bad behaviors before they happen. Broadly, these steps could be characterized as managing up, which, even if you don’t have a micromanaging boss, are great techniques to make the most of your boss’s interactions with you and make you a more valuable asset to him or her.

Step 1: Look in the Mirror
“Are you doing anything that could give your manager cause for concern?” asks Martin Webster, a leadership consultant and owner of You may feel micromanaged because your boss reviews every one of your press releases before they go out, but if you’ve made more than a couple of mistakes in the past (or perhaps just one big one), he or she has not only a right, but also an obligation to ensure the information is correct. The question is: What are you doing to regain your boss’s trust?

Rachel Radwinsky of Transformation Associates asks, “Is it because you just don’t like being managed?” or feel you are “above” being managed? Independent personality types, people who have never had to manage others or people who have been in higher positions than their current one could easily fall into that trap. The reality, however, is that everyone in the organization has someone he or she is accountable to, even a CEO. It may not be micromanagement that’s bothering you, just management.

If your self-reflection is blemish-free, the rest of these steps will provide tools to defuse the classic micromanager.

Step 2: Do Your Job Well
Meeting deadlines and producing quality work are the strongest antidotes to micromanagement. Building your boss’s trust and confidence that you can be counted on is paramount to loosening the leash. Demonstrate consistently that there is nothing there to pick at, and the nitpicking will stop.

Step 3: Look for Patterns
Being a student of human behavior will help you at least recognize, if not predict, a micromanaging moment. It’s probably not everything, just certain things that push your boss’s buttons and incite the interference. Make note and make them a priority. Or it may not be your work that’s the problem, but something else that winds your boss up with doubt, and you are collateral damage. Get to know your boss’s stressors so you can help ease them, rather than suffer through them.

Step 4: Understand Your Manager
Taking the time to understand your boss’s needs and what he or she is trying to achieve may uncover the reason why he or she holds so tightly to certain things and expects perfection from others. Ensuring you’re pursuing common goals and not working on separate agendas will help build trust and buy you more freedom. Acknowledging the pressure your boss is under to meet demands from above and showing empathy will inspire confidence that you understand what’s important to your supervisor.

Step 5: Communicate Early and Often
The more work you do in the beginning to determine what your boss is really looking for — not just what, but why — the easier it will be for you to deliver results that meet expectations and for your boss to leave the “how” up to you. Establish at the onset when he or she will want check-ins and progress reports, and make sure you stay on top of them (if not pre-empt them). Keeping your boss in the loop will build confidence that you have everything under control, and the required check-ins will become fewer and fewer.

Step 6: Ask How You’re Doing
The micromanaging boss may not realize his or her uber-oversight equates to negative feedback to the employee. Each exchange is nullifying any positive feedback the supervisor may be giving. Regularly asking your boss how you’re doing not only gives the two of you the opportunity to identify and address any needed course corrections, but if things are on track, you get to shift the balance of the positive-to-negative feedback ratio. More importantly, it forces your boss to hear his or her own voice affirm “you’ve got this.” The more he or she says it, the more your boss will begin to believe it and feel more comfortable in pulling back.

Step 7: Speak Up, But Cautiously
If you’ve exhausted all of the tactics above and you’re still experiencing the acute control freak, try addressing the behavior head-on — with respect. Avoid being confrontational or using the “M-word,” but instead, describe what your boss is doing (second-guessing you) and tell him or her how it makes you feel (mistrusted). If that doesn’t seem to go anywhere, reach out to others who report to your boss. Odds are, you’re not the only one experiencing this behavior and getting them all on board with steps two through six may help. If you are the only one experiencing your boss as a micromanager, you may want to go back and review step one.

Obviously, the responsibility does not rest on the shoulders of the employee to “fix” a micromanaging boss, but if these steps can help improve the relationship, it may at least fix your frequent urge to call in sick or update your resume. Where the responsibility does lie is squarely on the shoulders of the manager whose crushing style is having a negative impact on not just staff, but likely the whole organization.

Look for the conclusion of this three-part series in the January issue, which will provide six tips for shedding the “micro” without weakening the management.