Do you micromanage?

I’m not proud of it, but I am a micromanager.

I used to work for a micromanager. It wasn’t pleasant; it was hard on my self-confidence and I swore that I would never become a micromanager. “Mike” used to follow up on every detail; he used to give me step-by-step instructions on how to do things I had done a thousand times, and he would make notes on every little thing that was not done the way he would have done it (and bring it up during my review).

I was young at the time, fresh from college, fresh from still being a child in my parent’s home, and I felt like I had another parent. At first I thought it was great that he was so concerned about me, and I liked the extra time he took to explain things.  After awhile, however, I started to think that perhaps he thought I wasn’t very smart and needed long explanations for tasks I was very comfortable with.

I learned to hate his micromanaging, because it made me feel like a child. I felt like I was being chastised and that Mike didn’t trust me at all.  It took away my motivation and creativity, as well as any willingness I had to do something extra, in case I did it wrong (in other words, not the way Mike would have done it).

I made a promise to myself that I would never do that to people I worked with. Clearly, I’ve forgotten this promise.

This summer we bought Caroline (our office manager) a new laptop. I got into training 20 years ago as an IT instructor, so anything technical is like a new toy to me. I love setting it up, organizing it, and getting it ready to work.

I set up Caroline’s new computer.  I know that many times we are so pushed for time we don’t set up the proper organizational systems and by the time we get time to do that, the computer has everything in one big directory (and it feels like it is too late to clean it up).  So I took the time to set it up properly and well organized.  I created folders—everywhere!

In my time management workshops and webinars I talk about the mess that email creates for many of us, and that the “goal” is to have your email in-box empty (much like your in-basket on your desk). You still have work to do, but when it is organized in files it is so much easier to find.

So I set Caroline up with lots of folders.  Her in-box was empty, everything was transferred over, and I was thrilled with the new system.

Last week Caroline wasn’t in the office one day and I had to send an email from her computer. I almost cried when I saw that her in-box had more than 100 messages (all read and completed) in it, and that all the folders I’d created were sitting there empty.

It took everything I had not to organize her computer again. I wanted it fresh, clean, and organized for efficiency. My logic said that if you’re done with it, put it away (in one of those nice folders!). Caroline’s logic said, leave it in the in-box where you can find it in the future.

When she came back to work the next day, I didn’t say anything. It’s her computer. Just because something works well for me, doesn’t mean that it works well for everyone else. I wanted to explain my rationale for the nice clean in-box. I wanted to explain that it is really important to move the emails you are finished with. I wanted to explain that I get paid to teach people this and yet she wasn’t doing it.

Why? Why did I feel the need to micromanage this aspect of Caroline’s job? Caroline is very good at what she does. She doesn’t let things fall through the cracks, and she doesn’t say “I don’t know where that file is.”  Her organizational system works well for her, so what benefit would be gained by having me insist she change it to the way that made the most sense to me?

Are you a micromanager too? Here are some tips to remember when working with others:
–    Be clear on what the final result you’re looking for is. For example, I need to know that Caroline can do her job efficiently. That is really the result I want. She can. She’s giving me the result I want, regardless of what her in-box looks like. Ask yourself if there will be a different outcome if the person does things differently.
o    For instance—everyone seems to have their own opinion about how to load a dishwasher. If the final result is that the dishes come out clean, does it matter how they were loaded?  Is your final result clean dishes? Or is your final result clean dishes, maximum load capacity (ie six bowls, 10 coffee cups etc.). If that is your final result, then you need to make that clear. You are not communicating clearly if you ask for the dishwasher to be loaded without giving specifics.

o    Keep in mind that too many specifics means you are over-managing and you will not get people to co-operate willingly (because they feel will like a child). “Can you please load the dishwasher, ensuring all the plates are facing this way, that there are at least 10 coffee cups, the forks are all pointing up, and the plastic is on the top level only,” sounds like a bit much, doesn’t it?  If I asked you to read this newsletter, while sitting, at 11:20 in the morning because that is the best time to absorb information, you might decide not to read it at all because of the way the instructions made you feel.

–    Get out of the way! Trust is something you have to have with the people you work with. If you watch them and check up on them obsessively, they will rebel. Adults don’t want to be made to feel like children, and if you are constantly checking up on them (when you are past the training stage), you will de-motivate them. Trust that they know what they are doing, and will ask you if they need help.

o    My son had a job where the boss would watch them do tasks long past his probation period. How insulting and demoralizing. If you are being watched (or followed-up with constantly) you feel as if the boss is just waiting to pounce. Not a good work environment.

–    Be available for assistance if needed, too. Don’t overcompensate your micromanaging with absenteeism.

–    Let them do it their way. Unless there are legal or safety implications, let them just do it. Just because it isn’t the way you would do it, doesn’t mean it is wrong. Be flexible.

I work with professionals and so do you. If they are smart enough to keep their job, they are smart enough to do it without you constantly checking up on them. Don’t de-motivate your fellow employees or staff members.

Caroline will know now that I wanted to fix her in-box. She’ll laugh at me, but she probably won’t do it the way I would like her to because her system works for her. The problem is mine—not hers.  I need to accept that she is perfectly capable of doing things herself.

So today, when you go to the office, let people do their own job. Even if you are the boss! Do your job, not theirs.

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