A friend and colleague of mine, Jennifer Palus, is an admitted micromanager. She wrote me recently with some thoughts about the urge to micromanage. She believes that her subordinates can trigger her micromanager tendencies through certain behaviors.
"My micro manager tendencies can lie dormant for long periods of time; they are awakened by several behaviors," she says. Below, she discusses a few common triggers and some ways you can work with your employees to help you both avoid the micromanagement cycle before it starts.
Lack of Inclusion
Employees that wait to tell you that they have changed the plan until it's too late to disagree or react.
Consider an employee who agreed to kick off a detailed project at a day-long meeting. As everyone gathers for the meeting, she pulls her boss aside to say she did not bring any of the material because she has reconsidered and will wait until next week. She explains her logic, and it's not unreasonable. However, her timing could not be worse. She effectively forced her boss into accepting her decision with no discussion or debate. The boss has no options. In the future, I can assure you, the boss will be hyper vigilant about this person's adherence to agreed parameters and expectations. In other words, she has trained her boss to micromanage her by breaking trust and bypassing the boss' involvement in a key decision.
Better approach: Encourage your employees to speak up if they have a better idea--but not at the last minute. Allow them to present their options and reasoning with enough time for discussion and decision.
Lack of Follow-through
Employees that frequently miss deadlines or commitments, usually claiming to have forgotten.
Everyone forgets things from time to time. Heck, I have entered the glorious part of life where you walk with purpose into a different room only to completely forget why you came. So, there is room for a little leeway with honest absentmindedness. That said; if employees frequently seem to "accidentally" forget your assignments and requests, they may awaken your inner-micromanager. After the fifth or sixth issue, you will probably assume the employee is completely overwhelmed or incompetent, suffers from a neurological issue, has zero organizational skills, or is deploying passive-aggressive methodologies.
Better approach: Find a reminder system that works for you and your employees (there are literally hundreds of methods.)
Lack of Acknowledgement
Employees that seem to ignore direct questions and requests.
Maybe they thought your question was rhetorical. Maybe it just got buried in the other 2,000 emails they received. Maybe they are gathering information and feel they cannot answer until you until they do. Whatever the reason, when employees do not acknowledge a question, they have pushed a button in your micromanager brain. You may begin to panic that ignoring your emails may mean employees are also ignoring client questions and other key aspects of their job. What started as an easy-to-overlook inquiry in the third paragraph of an email has turned into the litmus test of a quality employee.
Better approach: Ask employees to acknowledge all incoming requests, even if only to tell you that it will take two to four days to provide a complete answer. Feeling confident that the communication circuit is complete gives everyone a sense of peace.
Lack of Adoption
Employees who don't notice or refuse to adapt to your brilliance...well, idiosyncrasies
Here is a personal example. When there are similar versions of the same file (e.g., a budget that is generated each month) and the file name includes the date, I use YYYY-MMDD format. I find it helpful when sorting files. If I were your boss, I would like to see you adopt this approach. I think it's clever and helpful, and--here's the kicker--I appreciate when other people agree. If you ignore this approach and continue using MM-DD-YY, I wonder if you understood the elegant efficiency of my solution. If you send me files name with month names, like Budget JAN 2012 or Budget MAR 2013, I will assume you aren't very organized or logical, because your files will alpha sort APR--AUG--DEC- FEB. Judgmental? Sure, but also pretty accurate in my experience.
Better Approach: If you have a unique or preferred way of doing something, encourage employees to ask about it. You can then explain the thought process behind your approach (or maybe even admit that it is a fluke, and let employees ignore it). Employees will be more likely to adopt it or at least respect the thought-process.
I am not proud of my micromanagement tendencies; I know they are annoying. At the same time, if I am working with people who do not hit deadline or do not meet commitments, I would rather annoy my team than fall short of the team's goal. I think most bosses probably think the same.