Understanding Micromanagement

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The goal of our second blog is to raise the visibility of leader-led employee autonomy and its opposite, micromanagement, and to add value to the discussion of this critical topic.

In our initial blog (https://begreatllc.com/blog) we discussed organizational HR strategies and systems that support employee autonomy (sometimes referred to as empowerment or independent work). In many cases these strategies are working but are incomplete because they lack leadership development solutions that clarify why frontline managers need to grant more appropriate accountable autonomy and stop micromanaging and how they can do that. The goal of this blog is to explore why this need is not being addressed.

We believe that for many organizations the why arises from an inability to clearly understand one of the core root causes of employee disengagement, high turnover, and poor frontline leadership, as well as a failure to provide development that offers frontline managers the training they need to address these concerns. Now new data are focusing increased attention on how micromanagement contributes to these issues.

Emerging research on the perils of micromanagement as well as the benefits of employee autonomy is being published across disciplines. For example, Gallup cites micromanagement as a key factor in record levels of employee disengagement. Stanford Professor Dr. Jeffrey Pfeiffer's research on stress and productivity loss states that managerial micromanagement creates unhealthy work environments. And Google's Project Oxygen research proves that leader-led employee empowerment with little or no micromanagement is a key differentiating leadership behavior in team performance.

Our own 2016–2017 research involving 900 organizations found that both employees and their frontline managers deem the leadership behavior of granting autonomy and not micromanaging to be a key driver of employee performance and engagement. While there are many causes for disengagement, turnover and ineffective leadership, we purport that leader-led employee autonomy without micromanagement is one of the critical factors that, if addressed, could be a game changer. Yet, this solution may not be on your radar. What does this mean for your organization?

Many of you are spending significant sums of money to improve frontline leader effectiveness, but we believe you may be missing one of the root causes of the issues you face. Because granting autonomy and not micromanaging are off your radar, you do not measure them in your employee surveys or internal leadership effectiveness studies. Are these leadership behaviors in your leadership competency model? Are you offering leadership development solutions to improve leaders’ ability and willingness to stop micromanaging and grant more appropriate levels of autonomy?

Key to this assessment of leadership behavior is having a clear understanding of micromanagement and how it presents in a workplace environment. The term micromanagement almost universally inspires negative emotions in workers, most of whom have experienced it at some point in their careers. It stifles creativity, destroys morale, and can drive turnover. Even more troubling is the revelation that micromanagement can prevent managers from developing their people and thereby enhancing productivity. If employees don’t have the opportunity to do their jobs without this extreme form of “hands on” management, they won’t develop the critical knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

Our work in the area of micromanagement, however, has revealed a surprising truth. Much of the micromanagement that occurs is unintentional, and this observation gives us hope. Micromanagers typically see themselves as being helpful; they are unaware that their behavior is having a negative impact on their direct reports. Their tendency to micromanage varies from individual to individual, as do the micromanagement triggers that set off this behavior. For these unintentional micromanagers, the awareness and identification of their triggers and strategies to address them will help them curb this behavior and enable them to be the best managers they can be for their people.

To make this happen, we, as well as others not in the leadership training and development field, believe a new approach to leadership is needed—an approach that aligns employees’ desired work styles with frontline leaders’ skills and behaviors. This new approach needs to be overt, targeted and unabashedly clear to leaders. In part, it needs to focus on what employees need and want: receiving more appropriate and accountable levels of autonomy and not being micromanaged. In our own research, 89% of Human Resource professionals stated that their frontline leaders were ineffective in granting autonomy and not micromanaging. Further, 50% of these professionals scored their managers at 1 out of 5 on a Likert scale for this behavior.

Having micromanagement off your radar does not necessarily mean you have a problem. But you won’t know that until you recognize the possibility and investigate. A solution finally exists that tangibly supports autonomy and addresses micromanagement by changing the way frontline managers lead and the way their direct reports perceive their leadership. Leading with Autonomy®, a new set of processes, behaviors and tools, now provides an accessible, learnable and affordable framework for frontline managers at all experience levels.

In future blogs we will look into discreet areas of our research and findings and share information from client interviews and industry experts to illuminate a myriad of strategies for creating more effective frontline manager-led employee autonomy. We hope with these discussions to put a business case front and center in support of creating an autonomy-based workplace.