In 1890, when I was a mere 25 years old, I underwent one of the most embarrassing and frustrating encounters with my micro manager boss. I was an analyst programmer and regularly worked an extra 40-60 minutes every day outside of normal office hours. One day I was about 10 minutes late due to the wrong type of leaves on the road and he asked me into his room to discuss why I was late. I can remember wanting to lean across his desk and give him a good shake (and that’s the PC version – the real version involved teeth and throat!). I left that meeting feeling demeaned, embarrassed, frustrated, annoyed and, most importantly, demotivated for the rest of the day. All my efforts to mature as an individual and show commitment to work evaporated because I now felt like a scolded child. I vowed from that day that, if I were to end up as a manager, I would treat my staff as grown ups with respect.
Unfortunately I have encountered other micro managers since (which does raise the point that I may be the root cause!).
Here are some of the behaviours of micro managers that I have witnessed:
- Attending all the low level (detail) meetings of their staff
- Constant checking of staff output
- Ensuring that all communication goes through them, especially to other superiors in the organisation
- Cannot delegate
- A general inability to empower staff to get on with their jobs
- An overall failure to treat people as adults and with respect
- Tends to be (or at least gives the impression of being) a perfectionist
The resulting culture is negative and reduces productivity due to:
- A closed relationship between manager and staff
- Creativity is stifled because staff are wary of the reaction they will get to new suggestions
- The department can become very bureaucratic and obsessed by adherence to processes
- Employees feel they are constantly being judged so “clam up” reducing internal communication
- People don’t “own” their work, as the ultimate accountability will reside with the boss
- The department becomes stale and can develop an “us and them” ethos where rumours are rife.
There is always a Yang to a Ying, so what’s the opposite of a micro manager? I call them disengaged star gazers because they spend a lot of time looking outwards (mainly upwards) from the department, giving an impression they are disengaged and uninterested in the daily machinations of department life. I have encountered these too and although the symptoms are very different, one key net result is the same – productivity goes down.
Here are the star gazer symptoms:
- Is commonly bored with daily operations
- Don’t conduct meaningful 1:1s with staff (or don’t do 1:1s at all)
- Don’t organise regular department meetings (too boring!)
- Do provide news from above. This shows they are more in touch with what’s happening in the business.
- Network with superiors in the organisation. It is common for star gazers to also be promotion hunters.
- Rarely provides meaningful appraisals or development plans for staff.
- Don’t stay long in the job.
- Radiate an aura of “looking after No. 1” and usually this is true.
So the upshot is:
- An unstructured and unfocused department – a lot of chatting goes on.
- Staff are unsure of theirs and the departments goals
- Employees are stressed by upcoming appraisals because they know the boss has been out of touch for previous 12 months – “he doesn’t know what I have achieved”.
- Staff regularly discuss who the next boss is going to be
- Disorganised work practises and processes
The star gazer departments are usually happier than micro managed ones because they are not being scrutinised. However, the star gazer departments are typically less productive as they have no set targets or goals.
As in life “a bit of everything in moderation” is the soundest approach. Set out a charter for the department to cover the expected behaviours of the manager and staff:
- Write down you responsibilities to be a good manager. (Just writing it down will, or should, drive you towards delivering on the promises.) I won’t micro manage. I will provide regular feedback. I will conduct regular 1:1s. I will work towards staff development. I will set targets and review them. I will keep staff informed of company news.
- Brainstorming sessions will be held where everyone is expected to contribute. (Your first brainstorming session can be the development of this charter. You will be amazed how innovative people are even with seemingly boring or trivial tasks).
- Staff are expected to deal with personal differences in a mature, courteous and professional manner
- Staff are expected to take accountability for their tasks without interruption from the manager
- Generate some general communication guidelines for internal and external purposes.
- Staff are expected to contribute in a positively professional manner
- Your door is always open (if you have one!)
There is probably much more subject matter that you can think of to be in the charter – just be careful it doesn’t become too big and unwieldy because, as with any agreement or process, it has to be revisited regularly to ensure everyone understands and abides by it. It should be a living document so don’t think that once it is created you can forget it. You also need to “walk the talk” and ensure you live up to your side of the bargain – if you do, then your staff will deliver too.