According to the definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, micromanaging bosses “try to control or manage all the small parts of something (such as an activity) in a way that is usually not wanted or that causes problems.”
In fact, “Thou shalt not micromanage” is practically the first commandment of Management 101.
But as with most cherished rules, there are micromanaging exceptions—that is, times when it might be just what is needed to turn an underperforming employee into a star, deal with a difficult problem or help the team meet its goal. Here are some situations where micromanaging might be especially needed or welcome, according to leadership experts:
1. Uncharted territory. When the company is changing strategy or embarking on a new endeavor, you need to employ much more directed attention to ensure the rank-and-file aren’t getting lost. “An all-hands-on-deck mentality for a new endeavor also may convey a team approach for getting something launched,” writes Christine M. Riordan, an author and expert on leadership, in a 2010 Forbes article.
2. Change management. When there is a new leader, employee or business unit, closer supervision and mentorship is needed until new employees are comfortable in their new roles, at least initially. It is important to establish up front that such management and review is expected to lessen as time goes on and people figure out what they are doing. “If your close supervision is needed for a very long stretch, you may not have the right employee or leader in place for the assigned workload,” writes Riordan in Forbes. “But you won’t find that out without a little unavoidable micromanaging.”
3. Lack of progress. Don’t let unfinished jobs linger. It’s important to ask what’s going on. “If something seems to be lingering, you need to find out its status, why results aren’t being produced, and why delays are occurring,” Riordan said. Nagging workers until they are miserable is of course bad, but so is thinking too much about strategy and not enough about implementation. In fact, having acute attention to detail can be a positive thing. The most effective managers are constant communicators, utilizing traits that some would consider micromanaging, according to a 2010 Towers Watson Global Workforce Study that was cited by European CEO.
4. A customer complains or results are disappointing. Both situations absolutely require investigation, as well as action items to resolve the situation. What is being done to turn things around? Again, you don’t want to nag or belittle your employees, but you do want to take an active role trying to investigate and resolve the problem.
“Leaders today need to demonstrate many leadership styles, depending on the situation, and have the agility and ability to move into a style that is not naturally their own,” added Riordan.
Such hands-on managing does not have to be abrupt. In fact, it is important to make clear why you are becoming more involved in a project, and stress that you are trying to help resolve issues together.
While micromanaging has a bad rap, some well-known executives even pride themselves on being micromanagers and their ability to delve into detailed matters and handle problems. Self-professed micromanager Ted Karkus, CEO of Cold-EEZE Cold Remedy maker ProPhase Labs, told Fast Company last year: “Frankly, I would never invest in a business where the CEO wasn’t a micromanager, but again it’s about micromanaging from the point of understanding the balance between informed and involved.”
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