Life in the Micromanaged Ecosystem

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The detail hound micro manager

The detail hound micro manager

In the trenches, projects huddle together interconnected to a million details like neurons in our brains. Delays, contingencies, breakdowns and meltdowns happen when projects with perfect blueprints collide with the forces of reality.

Only in textbooks and classroom studies do projects exist alone, in their own domain, unattached to other factors of life and isolated from the interference of the forces of chaos. Glorified reports of “how we did it” tend to suffer from selective amnesia and results in simplistic process descriptions.

These process workflows are usually gobbled up and regurgitated in some form or the other by that unique beast of the trenches called the micro-manager. The micro manager gets involved with, and even dictates, every detail in the work flow process. This brings on the feeling that you are just an extension of the manager. A robotic tool to do their bidding. This leads to a huge degree of demoralization and alienation from the work in front of us. The work we care about.

What makes micromanagement so common? What attracts this behavior?

A closer look reveals that the micro management ecosystem is rich with different species of micro managers. The simple ones are those who are driven by a feeling of superiority and a need for credit. The “my way or the highway” breed simply refuses to acknowledge that other people are capable to thought.The mentor type micro manager is a curious one whose actions driven by good intentions. The perfectionist micro manager has placards declaring the virtues of excellence, and urges everyone to embrace “the perfect way”. The insecure micromanager tends to keep a close eye on everything, and attempts to walk with magnifying glasses for spectacles.

The low levels of trust lead to an unbearable heaviness while working with the micro manager. In a team, trust is the main golden quality. Everything that aims to win, keep, and build trust drives the team to move forward, and the work, to gain momentum. Constant monitoring, interruptions, dictation and evaluation leads to a breach of trust. True delegation involves the risk of allowing the opportunity for mistakes. These in turn are sometimes pointers to areas of improvement and growth.

Breaking the tyranny of mechanical processes is very much required if work has to be freed. A process which compromises trust and works towards the reduction or elmination of it is definitely a recipe for painful projects.

Loss of ownership of work is a common effect of being micromanaged. “It is not my code, it is no longer my design, this is not my baby” are some of the common cries of the victim. Motivation plummets and affected person no longer responds to situations.  A zombie feeling seeps in and every query is redirected to the micromanager as decision making abilities atrophy.

The micro manager also suffers from the effects of this working style. The successful micro manager is like a football (soccer) player who gets the ball and then tries to do everything to score all alone. Goal Keeper, Defender, Forward, all rolled into one. It is no fun for the team and burns out the manager. In the long run, the team simply disbands as the game is no longer playable.

A solution to micromanagement is to move the focus away from the process to the people. The Goal Keeper, Defender, Forward are there in those positions to play. The idea is to give them the ball and let them run with it to score. Scoring  opportunities will be missed, goal keeper might not stop a few balls, forwards might not coordinate. These are all part of the game. The idea is to help nurture the players in their positions so that they can all come together to play a fantastic game. Less talk about the game and more play will definitely help.

Being with the micro manager in the trenches is a painful predicament. However, understanding the causes and the fact that the behavior is not personal goes a long way in adapting to the situation. Sometimes, an honest and open discussion about the diminishing trust in the execution of the project helps wake up the micro manager. The micro manager is often unaware that things are not going well. From their perch, micromanagers tend to bring all their focus to the process and blank out the other important aspects of work.

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