Micromanagement: Family Business Saboteur

Micromanagement: Family Business Saboteur

Here’s a question to ask the managers in your family business:   “What kind of employees do we want to have in our workforce?  Employees who think for themselves?  Or workers who mechanically do only what we tell them to do, exactly when and how we tell them to do it? “What a ridiculous question!” your managers will probably say.  “We need bright people who can think for themselves!”  Okay.  Now ask those same managers:  “Can the employees who report to you make decisions as well as you can? Could you step in at a moment’s notice and perform their jobs?”  If the answer to the first question is “No,” and the answer to the second question is “Of course,” micromanagement may be sabotaging your family business.

Micromanagers may have the best of intentions.  They may simply be focused on trying to meet their own responsibilities, or on protecting the business from mistakes.  A few managers might even argue that micromanagement (though they wouldn’t call it that) is necessary to get the job done and meet company goals.  Yet nothing is further from the truth.  Micromanagement fosters employee indifference and dependency, the result of which is decreased productivity, low morale and high turnover.

Let’s contrast how effective managers and micromanagers interact with their employees.

An effective manager delegates high level projects or tasks:

“Rhonda, I think the Campbell account could use some extra attention. What would be the best way to check in and see how they’re doing?”

Whereas a micromanager might say:

“Rhonda, I need you to give the Campbell account your full attention today. Please go into the database to get the number and then call them after lunch when Elton (you remember Elton, he’s the new purchasing manager), will most likely be in his office. While you’re on the phone with him, you might as well go over the November rebate offer, and don’t forget to fax the form to him as soon as you get off the phone….”

See the contrast? There’s a big difference between providing direction to Rhonda and controlling her every move. But that’s exactly what a micromanager does:  he or she interacts with people on a level far more basic and detailed than necessary. This sends a strong, counterproductive message to the person: “You’re not capable of figuring this out by yourself and I don’t trust you to do the simplest task on your own – so I’ll just tell you how to do it and save us all the trouble.”

10 Warning Signs of Micromanagement

Is that style of management widespread in your company? Sometimes it’s hard to know.  If you’re in doubt about whether you or managers in your company are micromanaging, take a look at these 10 warning signs:

  1. When you assign tasks, you spell out exactly when and how it should be done.
  2. You pride yourself on frequent communication, which includes asking employees for numerous, detailed status reports.
  3. Sometimes, you ask for updates because you’re “curious” or you “just want to know.”
  4. You’re busy all the time, and employees often have to wait for your input or approval.
  5. You pride yourself on being on top of the details of every project you’ve assigned, at all times.
  6. You believe you could do a better job on most tasks than your employees.
  7. Employees sometimes receive so many instructions from you that they become confused or overwhelmed and seek help from other employees.
  8. You believe that being a manager or executive means you should have more skills and knowledge than your employees.
  9. You frequently step in to take over projects or re-do work.
  10. Most times, you feel there’s no one else in the company who cares more about quality and customer service than you do.

If these statements make you the least bit uncomfortable, it might mean you or your managers are in danger of micromanaging. So what can you do about it?

  • Put your efforts into hiring the best, most capable people. Don’t limit your options just to people who have a specific skill set for an open position. Consider those who fit in with a culture of learning and are willing to take on increasing levels of responsibility.
  • Give people the what and let them figure out the how. Give people boundaries for their decisions (“You can extend the February rebate to any of our top customers”) and support the decisions they make as long as it’s within the agreed-upon parameters.
  • Remove the roadblocks.  Develop business processes that help people perform their jobs well.  Focus on creating systems that streamline work and build in quality.  And be sure to give workers the tools they need, whether it’s technology, people support, or project guidance before they begin.
  • Rethink your own priorities.  Shift from a taskmaster mindset to a leadership mindset.  Be selective about where you spend your own time and energy.  Concentrate on high-value, high-risk areas of your business that require your close attention and involvement. Ask yourself:  Am I doing only those things that only I can do?

Take a look around your family business.  Are any of your people micromanaging?  Are you?  Sure, in the short run, you probably could do things better and faster yourself.  But in the long run, micromanagement will limit your company’s growth.  In a family business, sometimes being in control really means letting go.