Your startup is your baby, so it makes sense that you "baby" it--but often when you do that in business, it becomes micromanaging. Even experienced managers can suffer from this tendency, so don't beat yourself up if this is your first time managing people and you find yourself slipping into these bad habits. Just like anything else, the first step is recognizing that you have a problem. The good news is that being a good manager can't be "mastered" and it's a lifelong learning process you can begin at any time.
Signs of a Micromanager
There are many types of managers and many ways of micromanaging. Every manager probably exhibits at least one of these tendencies during their career. One of the biggest red flags of a micromanager is that he or she cannot delegate, or does so poorly. It's easy to dish out the simple, dirty or boring tasks, keeping the "good stuff" for yourself or only key staff members you consider capable. Often these staff members are seen as the boss' pet which can upset company morale.
Some common signs that you might be a micromanager include:
- You have an "if you want something done right, do it yourself" attitude
- You delegate work, but then "hover" so you're basically doing the job yourself
- You lecture instead of show by doing/example
- You don't let employees figure things out themselves, learn from mistakes or be innovative
- You take back an assignment the second it doesn't go smoothly, hindering employee growth and development
Because of the fast-paced nature of the startup environment, it can be very easily for a manager to fall into the trap of thinking that he or she doesn't have enough time to handle new employees with extra care. That is an incorrect assumption. Doing this right early on will save much more time down the road, in both better performance and happier employees.
Why Micromanagement Hurts
If you've had a micromanaging boss at any time in your work life, you probably look back on that time and remember how it hurt the company, employees and the manager. The biggest issue I've seen is that it slows an employee's professional development. What's worse, many micromanagers are also prone to dishing out punishments. If a micromanager has his or her way, all employees turn into "Yes men." Love and passion for the company or its products very quickly disappear.
This can be a dire development for a startup. It often results in quick turnaround of employees, a poisoned office environment, and high stress. It means employees aren't bringing anywhere near their best to the table and in fact, they're probably desperately looking for another job as you speak. For my colleagues who have convinced investors to buy their company, you might know that too much of this environment can quickly eat into your runway and can be tough to explain to your board. If you haven't attracted investment yet, you might not, if you're facing the micromanagement problem.
The manager his or herself is also caught in a spiral of shame, confusion and misery (Either that or they are in denial or out of touch). Sales goals probably aren't being met. New iterations of the product aren't catching the interest of new users. Confidence is probably slipping. If you're not good at delegating, your partners, potential investors and shareholders aren't going to see your potential to make the company grow and thrive. In a non-startup environment, such as the corporate world, it can mean fewer or no promotions in your future.
How to Stop Micromanaging
You can become a better manager, but it's going to take consistent work and dare I say, a little humility. According to Entrepreneur's Great Places to Work Rankings, more than 90 percent of respondents said they love their job because they have a lot of responsibility. This wouldn't be the case if those companies were rampant with micromanagers. Keep this in mind when tackling your bad management tendencies.
First, dedicate yourself to hiring the right people for the job. When you hire accountable employees, you create an accountable culture. Then, once you've hired and trained somebody, let them go do their work. If you see problems, patiently explain how to improve. You may find that your own burdens are steadily lifted as you allow others to take up the weight you had been carrying for far too long. Now you can start to gauge how committed your people are to goals, their tendency to ask for more work or willingness to join teams.
Tips from the Pros
Management consultants name micromanaging one of the most common workplace problems they encounter. However, if you clearly state your expectations, make your team accountable to one another (not just you or the company) and offer employees the power to make decisions, you can get on the right track. When an employee "owns" their project, they'll care for it dearly just like you do.
In fact, if you really want your workers to own their projects, actually give them ownership stake. Equity is motivating because its value grows as the company's value does. Some companies motivate their employees buy adding 401k investments to their compensation packages. Also, some very successful startups tie employee salary to whether they meet milestones.
One final tip. You're not throwing in the towel if you hire a consultant to help your own management growth. I've seen companies themselves pay for an objective eye to come in and help managers with these issues. Maybe a member of your board who you admire can spend a few hours a month with you. Even though some hand holding might be in order and it can get uncomfortable, honing your management skills is a great investment to make. Good luck!