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Thursday, September 16, 2010

dealing with a micromanager

I'm quoted in this article on dealing with a micromanaging boss. Here's an excerpt:
First, figure out why your boss is a micromanager. Usually, you've either given her reason to micromanager you by your performance, or she's a micromanager in general. It's important to figure out which it is, says Alison Green, author of the blog "Ask a Manager." 
"People rarely ask, 'What have I done that's inspiring this scrutiny from my boss?' Instead, they're often just annoyed by it, which prevents them from being able to take the actions that could change it. Ultimately the manager's job is to ensure that the work is done well, and [if you aren't delivering], a good manager would have reason not to go on faith," Green says. "But if you're confident that your boss has no reason to doubt your work and/or your ability to stay on top of it, then this may simply be the style she uses with everyone."
The article aside, let's expand on this. If you drop the ball on things more often than very occasionally, forget details, don't follow up on things, miss deadlines, or produce work that requires a lot of changes from others, a good manager would get more closely involved—because ultimately the manager's job is to ensure that the work is done well. (Of course, if this sort of scrutiny continues to be required in the long term, a good manager would also address the problem in a larger context—meaning helping you improve or concluding you're not the right fit.) So, the first step is to ask yourself some tough questions to figure out if the problem is actually you.

But if you're confident that your boss has no reason to doubt your work, and this is just her style with everyone, try talking to her. Give specific examples of projects where you felt you could have worked more effectively if you weren't on such a short leash, and ask if there's anything you're doing that makes her feel she can't trust you and how you can work with more autonomy. Suggest other ways to keep her in the loop, such as weekly reports or weekly meetings, so that she doesn't feel she needs to check in as much. If she's resistant, suggest she experiment by giving you more autonomy on one specific project to see how it goes.

In the best case scenario, this approach can persuade a boss to ease up and find more appropriate ways to stay involved. But if nothing else, this approach will at least tell you whether or not things are likely to ever change. And if you learn that they're not, you can then decide if it's something you're willing to live with or not ... which is pretty much the formula for dealing with any workplace frustration.


Charles said...


Stories about micromanagers always remind me (unfairly or not) about the time I was working a summer job during my high school years (we are talking about before Jimmy Carter, folks). My co-worker and I were doing all the manual labor around the plant.

Well, this one time we were digging a ditch with shovels (Did I mention that this was a long time ago? when I was young and one didn't need to speak Spanish to get an outside, manual labor job) and would you believe that the boss stood over our shoulders telling us how to dig?

Yep, how. to. dig.

Every shovel full of dirt he had a comment on how to move it. "move the shovel this way; push it that way, look out for that rock, etc."

He finally jumped down into the hole and grabbed the shovel from my co-worker to "show you how it's done." Then he complained that he just got his shoes all muddy! After he left to go wash off his shoes, I heard one of the other guys comment about someone who "must have a Ph.D. in ditch digging; wrote his thesis on how to shovel around stones."

So, sometimes a micromanger is just a know-it-all. All you can do is laugh behind her back.

Jamie said...

I have seen it both ways - people who micromanage because it's in there nature or a pathological need to control.

The flip side, and I'm glad AAM addressed it in her answer, is those employees who require micromanagement.

Nothing makes me more resentful than being forced to micromanage someone - It's such a time suck and negative situation. But without it some people will not follow through and what gets done will be incorrect.

I personally think incompetence and slacking should come with a pink slip - but that's not immediate nor always in sole control of the person being forced to babysit.

Anyone can have the bad luck of a micromanaging boss, but if all of your bosses have been that way perhaps it's time to look inward.

Jamie said...

Edited to correct: "it's in their nature or a pathological need to control." from my previous post.

Talk about pathological, but I couldn't let people think I don't know the difference between "their" and "there."

Ask a Manager said...

Jamie, I've noticed your comments here in the last few weeks and they are all things that feel like they could have come from my own head. Thus, I am officially anointing you as awesome! (As that is, of course, the standard I use.)

screaminscott said...

Remember, their might just be a difference in perception between employees also.

For example, I hear people complain "My boss checks on the status of my project EVERY DAY!", while I'm thinking "Gee, I'd LOVE it if my boss actually showed that much of an interest in my work!"

Jamie said...

That made my day, thanks!

I also judge the awesomeness of others by how much they think like me - so I return the compliment. That's why I love your blog - basic common sense.

Oh and the interview you did was great - sounded like you guys were having a great time. I listened while I was working late, eating cold Chinese food, and hunting for errors in a database - it was cool to have something new to put on instead of old reruns of The IT Crowd.

Ask a Manager said...

Ha. That interview was super fun to do. I was actually just talking to a friend about starting a call-in podcasty kind of thing, because it was so fun!