At what point does a leader cross the line from “providing constant guidance” to full-on micromanager? If you’re anything like the average micromanager, your worries about your people making mistakes probably permeate your every decision, from oversight to approval. It’s also probably why you prefer to stay in the know and retain the final say in even the smallest ways; that’s how you assuage your worry.
That, though, is precisely the problem. Micromanagement doesn’t help your employees the way you think it does. It actually hurts them more by damaging their engagement levels, productivity, efficiency, and overall performance. Here are four reasons why.
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To nurture excellence and peak performance in your people, you need them to be willing and able to go beyond the call of duty. The best employees don’t stop at doing what’s required; they’re able to deliver tremendous value to the company and those around them in extraordinary ways. A huge part of getting your employees to perform at this level, though, is cultivating a strong sense of autonomy at work.
When you continuously micromanage, over time, it suffocates employee autonomy and erodes both individual and collective ownership over performance at work. The more you get in the way of how people do their job, the more you cripple them, and the more unhappy and demotivated they grow.
After all, according to bestselling author Daniel Pink, autonomy is one of the key components of intrinsic motivation. To have a consistently highly motivated team, you have to give them room to manoeuvre and grow. Netflix, for one, famously built its entire company culture on the foundation of autonomy. As its culture deck states: “People thrive on being trusted, on freedom… so we foster [this] wherever we can.”
Arguably, the most detrimental consequence of micromanaging is its ability to stunt innovation. Spend enough time working under a control-freak boss, and you’ll adapt to make sure that everything you do is in line with their requirements, right down to the minutiae. However, such a high degree of control is antithetical to the nature of creative thinking.
People are at their most creative when they let their minds freely wander and think in abstract terms. The more you micromanage, though, the less creative their thinking will be, since they’re so used to rigidity, conformity, and detail-oriented thinking.
Micromanagers often seek to retain as much control over their employees’ processes and output as possible. As such, they tend to be allergic to delegating, especially delegating authority. Because of this, they often end up nurturing a sense of complacency and over-dependency amongst their employees.
The more you micromanage your people, the more they won’t feel as though they have any authority to make decisions at work. Ultimately, they wind up disengaging themselves from the process of critical thinking in favour of being easily spoonfed.
Additionally, managers who fail to delegate authority do so to their own detriment in the long run. Retaining greater control over decision-making necessitates presiding over more decisions. The work will keep piling up over time, increasing micromanagers’ susceptibility to job burnout.
People working in micromanaged teams may often feel like they’re walking on a field of landmines. When the boss insists on doing things his way, the unspoken message is that that he doesn’t trust his people.
This paves the way for the “Set-Up-To-Fail” syndrome, which the Harvard Business Review refers to as “a dynamic in which employees perceived to be mediocre or weak performers live down to the low expectations their managers have for them.”