In this episode of the Stretch Goals podcast, Scott and I are going to be asking you the question are you a micromanager?
You might be a micro manager if:
Robert: In this episode of the Stretch Goals podcast, Scott and I are going to be asking you the question are you a micromanager? This is the Stretch Goals podcast, where each week, we’ll share insights and lessons learned based on our experiences as entrepreneurs. We’ll challenge you to create ambitious goals as you start and grow your business. I’m your host, Robert Dickerson.
Scott: And I’m Scott Davis.
Robert: So, Scott, I like this topic this week: are you a micromanager?
Scott: I am not.
Robert: Because everyone likes micromanagers, don’t they?
Scott: Yeah, have you ever had a conversation where it’s like, “Oh, man, dude, he’s a micromanager. Oh, I love working for him.” Yeah, that never happens.
Robert: Everyone hates it. We’re going to talk about some ways that you can tell if you’re a micromanager. Then, also, maybe a couple things that you can do to make sure that you’re not falling into the trap of micromanagement.
Scott: Sure. I’ll say this. It’s easy to become a micromanager without knowing it, I think, because especially in the corporate space, where you’ve got so many deliverables and different things that you’re being held accountable for, it’s easy for somebody to forget about what matters, which is managing the relationships with your employees, right? Then, all of a sudden, you get into actionable insights and measurable events, and then all of a sudden, you’re a micromanager and didn’t even know it.
Robert: As a leader, you’re in charge of making sure that everyone gets their work done. That’s the metric that they’re holding you accountable against, so you want to have control over that. A lot of times, I’ll see when people come up through the ranks, when they’re not properly trained in management, they still want to get their hands dirty. That’s what they know, is kind of the day-to-day operations, so they want to dive in. They want to get involved. A lot of times, my idea of a manager is just getting out of the way and providing a platform for your employees to be successful. That is, in my mind, success for a manager. It’s getting out of the way and making sure that your employees have the resources to get things done. If you can do that, I think you can be a successful manager.
Scott: Do you think that management styles for startups in the corporate environment could be different and could lend themselves into micromanaging status differently?
Robert: I think so, but I think there’s probably more similarities. Being a leader, when we’ve talked about it in previous episodes, it’s about really making people accountable and communicating and trust. Those are three areas we’re going to talk about a little bit later about how you can improve and not be a micromanager. If you hire the right people and you communicate what you want to do and you hold them accountable and you trust them, you can be successful. Then, if you remove blockers out of their way, they’ll be successful, as well. The idea is that, as a team, you want to get to the endpoint. You want to get to the end of the product. It’s a team effort. Think about these three things. Are you a micromanager? Do you bug your employees all day? I know we’ve all had a manager like that, where they’re sending us emails. They’re stopping by our door and asking us, “Hey, how’s it going?” I think of office space. If you’re doing that all day, that’s probably a good sign that you might be a micromanager.
Scott: Yeah, I hated that, constantly wanting to know what the status is on stuff. It comes down to trust, which we talked about in episode 38. If you trust your employees to get their job done and you trust their skill sets, you don’t need to bother them. The flip side to that is if that employee is letting you down and not meeting the deliverables, then you have some trust issues, which is valid. If you are an employee and you feel like you’re being micromanaged and you look around and your other employees don’t feel micromanaged, it might be a sign that you aren’t doing the work that you’re expected to.
Robert: Yeah, that’s a good point. Another area is if you’re a manager and you’re holding multiple meetings every day to get status updates, that might be a good sign that you’re micromanaging. You’re not communicating properly or you’re not providing channels for your employees to communicate. I mean, if you’re having meetings all day with people, how is anyone being productive and getting work done?
Scott: Yeah. The other thing is don’t have meetings for meetings’ sake, number one, but number two, you should be able to know what’s going on without having all hands in meetings. You should know. If you’ve got a good relationship with your employees and you trust them, which we just talked about, then they’ll tell you where they are on things and you’ll know. You won’t have to have unproductive, recurring meetings.
Robert: I think a lot of times, people have meetings because maybe they don’t understand the process. If you’re doing development work or something, you don’t understand how things are supposed to run, so you feel like you need to be really connected with the developers to make sure that they’re doing their work. I mean, this applies to other areas, as well. Sales, marketing. It’s very similar in all of them. But you need to trust the employees that you hired to do the right work. I mean, you need to have a basic understanding of whatever kind of field you’re managing those people. As an entrepreneur, a lot of times I’m forced into managing people in areas that I’m not an expert in, whether it’s sales or marketing. Those are areas that I’m still learning on. I need to hire the right people. Oh, design is another one, right? So I need to hire the right people and I need to trust them, but I also need to have kind of a basic understanding, so I can understand how that’s a trade-off there, that you maybe need to get more involved. Having daily meetings, daily stand-ups, is not the right solution.
Another thing I’ve found is to sit down with maybe a senior-level person and walk through what they think the process should be and get their feedback, especially when you’re setting deadlines and you’re setting things like that. Get that person’s feedback. Is this reasonable? That’s something I ask a lot of people is, “Here’s me expectation. Is that reasonable?” Use their expertise for them to tell you yes/no, that’s reasonable or that’s not reasonable.
Scott: Sure, those are great points. That helps you out in the planning process, too. The one pet peeve that I really hate about a micromanager is when they hover over your shoulder. Let’s say there’s a critical outage or they need you to develop something really quick. Don’t ask me or tell me to do something and then stand there right behind me and watch me do it, because that’s not going to make it go any faster. I don’t need your extra 10 fingers to write this code. I definitely don’t need you standing there looking at me and burning a hole in the back of my head like Superman. I hate that. If you’re hovering over people’s shoulders, it’s not effective, unless you’re firing them and seeing them out the building. I eel like Jeff Foxworthy. You might be a redneck. You might be a micromanager if you hover over people’s shoulders.
Robert: Another one is you might be a micromanager if you don’t trust your employees to work from home.
Scott: There you go. There you go. So you’re saying Melissa Mayer from Yahoo is a micromanager?
Scott: NO, that’s a good point, right? The ultimate goal of a manager or any leader is to empower your people to do their job, whatever it is that they’re there for. It could be someone on the front lines of a military combat. It could be a McDonald’s hamburger cooker. It could be a software developer. It doesn’t matter, but whoever’s managing whatever person, the goal is to do some set out objective. If you’re motivating them properly and you’re a good leader, you don’t need to see them to make it happen. You can work from home, like you just said.
Robert: I mean, not all jobs you can work from home. If you’re a retail employee or you need to work in a store or something, those are things that you have to be there. There’s certain jobs. I mean, I was a lifeguard. I had to be at the pool. I couldn’t lifeguard from home via video camera or something. Yeah, there’s certain jobs that you need to be there, but other jobs in the corporate world, and there’s a lot of them, is that you can work from anywhere at any time. A lot of times, the people that I hire, I really don’t care when they work, how they work. It’s just I want the work done. A lot of times, I’ll make sure there’s overlap in the times that we are working. I mean, that’s always productive, right, if you have questions? I’ve worked with people and Australia and it’s totally opposite, so it’s hard to do collaborative type things, but if people are working on their own and you’ve given them clear communication and direction, they can complete that work separately. You don’t have to be right there beside them. You know, it’s great if you’re working with people in other countries and stuff, too, to wake up in the morning and see that work has been accomplished overnight while you slept.
Scott: If you’re a control freak, you might be a redneck. I mean, if you’re a control freak, you might be a micromanager. You might be a redneck, too.
Robert: See, I do like control.
Scott: Yeah, but if you’re a control freak, if you absolutely have to have control over every aspect, it tends to lead into micromanaging, because you then feel like you can do everything. If you feel like you can do everything, why do you have these people, because you need to trust them to do their job? If you can’t let them do it, then they should be your employees.
Robert: That’s something, as new managers, as new leaders, if you’re just starting out, that’s something I’ve seen a lot of, that it’s hard for people to let go of that control. They’ve done something a certain way, maybe as a technician in the role, and they move up into a management role. They’re used to doing stuff their own way and a certain way, so they try to apply that technique to everyone. You have to do this this exact same way. If you’re not doing it, I’m going to go back and fix it so you are. I think you need to be very careful about doing that, because people have different styles of work. As long as they’re accomplishing the work that needs to be done, then why does it matter if we all do it the same way, right?
Scott: That’s a good point. On the flip side, if you’re an employee, just because you don’t like your manager’s management style doesn’t mean that he or she is a micromanager. It just means that you’ve got to figure out how to work within their mechanisms of management. Don’t confuse being unhappy with your manager’s style with micromanagement.
Robert: If we go into how do you stop these things, how do you be a better manager, I think one way is communication. It’s a two-way street, right, from both the employee needs to communicate how they work, how they like to receive feedback, how they like to be communicated with. If the manager understands that and they understand how to engage with them and communicate with them, then you can create a better relationship there. It needs to be that open communication and not just why does this guy keep telling me what to do? They’re micromanaging me. If you can create that communication dialogue and set an expectation there, I think that’ll really help.
Scott: Yeah. I think in life in general, you need to be constantly looking at yourself and asking how you’re affecting other people every day, from the way that you interact with your wife or your kids or your employees or whatever. You can always make improvements, right? If you don’t recognize that you can make improvements, you’ve got something wrong with you. My point is if you are noticing that the moral of your team is down or maybe people are responding differently, take a step back and ask yourself what you could do better. Maybe you’ll be able to see that you’re developing tendencies that are micromanager-esque, but that’s a good way. Constantly self-assess. Once a week, once a month, something. Just on a regular basis, do that.
Robert: I think the self-assessment is really good. Also, to get feedback from people of how you’re doing, people that you trust to give you feedback that’ll be truthful with you. You have to be receptive of that feedback and not take it personally, because you’re trying to improve. Another thing I wanted to say, too, is I’m always of the mindset that if your employees fail, that’s a failure on your part as a leader, as a manager.
Robert: You really have to think about it like that. You did not give them the right tools to get the work done if you’re failing, if your employees are failing.
Scott: Unless you have bad apples. I mean, there’s that. Yeah, I agree, for the most part, on that. I think the other thing is what can we do if we’re an employee and our boss is definitely a micromanager? What can we do to help coach them to getting out of that micromanager box?
Robert: I think it’s hard, because people get set in their ways, especially if you have an experienced manager that’s been doing it for a long time, if they’ve been micromanaging for a long time. I think it can be really difficult to change their ways, but what you can do is open that communication channel, that dialogue, and really continuously have a dialogue of how can we best work together? How can we be most productive? Try to set those boundaries, set those expectations, and keep communicating that over and over again. Don’t wait for review once a year. As you’re working, start communicating those needs, and then you’ll develop that relationship over time.
Scott: Sure. Yeah, it’s a fine line. You can’t bust into his or her office and be like, “Hey, quit micromanaging me, jerk.” You’re going to have to feel them out and say, “So, what can I do better? You’ve been really on me lately. I feel like I’m getting my work done. What can I do better?” It’s all about how you phrase that question or that conversation, but don’t be afraid to do it. The worst thing that can happen is nothing. Nothing happens. You’re not going to get fired because you ask a question. Well, you shouldn’t. Go in, just talk to them, and see what happens. Like you said, if you develop that relationship, over time that establishes trust. As trust is established, there’s less need to micromanager.
Robert: We talked about that in a previous episode, trust. You really need to trust your employees. Another area to think about, too, is holding them accountable. How do you communicate effectively so that you can define what they need to do and then hold them accountable. That can be both positive accountability and negative accountability, right? You want to tell them they’re doing a good job and reward accomplishments of your team, but also try to figure out, when you’re not meeting those deadlines, what’s happening. Are you being too aggressive in your schedules and your deadlines? Do you not have the right resources in your team to get things done? That communication will help you figure out from your employees where are things breaking down in this relationship, how can we do a better job.
Scott: That’s a really good point. I hadn’t thought of it, but you’re absolutely right. If you have good communication with your employees and your team, you know who’s effective at what. You know what your timelines are on things generally. If you’re using Scrum or something, you know your velocity in sprints. You know all these things because you’ve been doing your job for a while. Sometimes I think, though, the reason that micromanagers are who they are is because they just want to be doing everything. That’s a natural instinct as a human. You want to be able to do everything, because you trust yourself. If you’ve got the insight and data into how your team runs on a daily basis, you don’t need to do that. If you are a micromanager, maybe you need to look at some quantitative data to show how well your team’s doing on a regular basis. If you’re a McDonald’s manager, figure out how many hamburgers you’re selling. If you’re a software manager, figure out what your team velocity is. Do something so that you can quantify that, and that’ll let you step back, because you’ll be like, “You know what? We’re on pace. I don’t need to be up these guys’ butts asking them questions all the time.”
Robert: I mean, I think it can be a fine line, especially if you’re just starting a business and you have a small team. For me, I have to jump in a lot of times to get things done, just because I have to help move things along, so there’s that fine line between-
Scott: Well, that’s leadership, too. That’s leadership.
Robert: Right, but it’s a fine line between me stepping on people’s toes and making sure stuff gets done. I view myself as filling in the gaps to get to the end product. Sometimes I have to fill in those gaps to get there
Robert: It definitely can be a balancing act. I try to communicate with people on my team this is why I’m doing this. I’m not trying to step on your toes. People like that ownership of what they’re doing, and if someone comes in and starts changing things, people can get really annoyed with that.
Scott: Sure. So, let’s talk about this for a second. What is the opposite of a micromanager? Would that be an un-manager?
Robert: No management. That is a problem, as well, right? You’re not setting deadlines, you’re never talking to people, and things just go off the rails because there is no one managing the day-to-day aspects of things. Everyone’s just kind of given a free pass and saying, “All right, just go to work.”
Scott: Is that a danger, in your opinion, to the-
Scott: Well, yeah, that, but is it a danger to have that flat org structure where nobody reports to anybody? That can kind of happen in some places. I think it’s one of those things where everyone owns their own little property and they take it under their own ambition and it’s fine. I have one question: are you a micromanager, Rob?
Robert: I hope I’m not.
Scott: I know I’m not. I’m probably closer to the un-manager. I’m like, “Hey, here’s what we’re doing. Go do it.”
Robert: For me, running a business, I just don’t have time to do that. I need people that can operate autonomously, that can be given generally direction and start running with it. I just don’t have time to hold people’s hands and watch all their code and stuff like that. I just don’t have that. That’s why I continuously bring on people to help me, because I just don’t have time to do that. I think if you’re starting a business, you’ll find that, as well, that you just don’t have time to do the micromanagement. If you do have a lot of time to micromanage, then I don’t know, maybe you’re managing a huge division or something like that. You need to bring on the right people. Like we said, the three things is accountability, communication, and trust.
Scott: Absolutely. Yup, trust your employees. It’ll make things more efficient.
Robert: See you next week. Thanks for listening to this episode of the Stretch Goals podcast. You can access the show notes for this episode and listen to other episodes by heading over to stretchgoals.fm.
Robert Dickerson is the Founder and CEO of Mapout a mobile learning platform that uses video courses to educate customers and train employees. He helps companies develop and launch their products.
Scott Davis is the Founder and CEO of MobX, a mobile development software agency. He has 20 years of experience developing software for Government, Finance, Sports and the Telecommunications industry.