Achieving the proper balance in management of people resources


Let me say it right up front…. I am NOT a fan of micromanagement of people. I have never known an individual that performed at their very best when consistently micromanaged.  Let’s define micromanagement as “an ongoing, overbearing management style that eliminates or severely limits an individual’s freedom to operate, contribute, participate, or function despite their level of competence or motivation.”  Micromanagement is very rarely warranted, though a case can be made for that very rare case.

What happens when one is micromanaged? It doesn’t take long for a micromanaged individual to simply stop participating in most activities.  Certainly, that individual may continue to contribute, but at a level much lower that for which he/she is capable.  A micromanaged individual will rarely go above and beyond to achieve, will be less motivated, and, ultimately, will likely leave prematurely.   Yet, there are times when enhanced management oversight might be needed.  How do you know when to exert more control?

The illustration above may help to provide guidance. If an employee is highly motivated and highly competent (see box 4), a manager needs to essentially stay out of the way.  This individual does NOT need manager oversight frequently to perform at a high level.  If you micromanage this individual, you will create frustration and lower performance for that person.  A highly motivated individual that lacks full competence (box 3) may simply need additional time or training to attain that highest level of performance.  A highly competent individual with low motivation (box 2) may either need less manager oversight (less micromanagement) or a new view, new assignment, or new challenges.  The individual low in both motivation and competence (box 1) may need more guidance to achieve high competence.  This individual may lack motivation simply because he/she has low confidence in their abilities.

So, there are times when additional oversight (not micromanagement) may be warranted. However, it cannot be abused.  There may also be a need to over-manage some projects for project managers.  These often require very detail activity assignments and frequent follow-up to ensure they stay on track.  However, I would argue that even in this case, our approach should be to over-manage, not micromanage.  Micromanagement always creates resentment and lower, long-term performance.

The illustration may also be helpful to individuals. Which box do you find yourself in today?  If you are high in box 4, it is time to pursue additional challenges either in your current position or a new one.  Likewise, you may need to speak with your manager about actions needed to shift your motivation or competence toward box 4.  A frank discussion regarding where your manager would place you might stimulate a productive discussion about next steps for you.

Thanks for all you do. Take a look at this illustration to help guide the next career discussion you have with your manager.  Have a great and productive day!

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