You may not even know it. HRM investigates the problems micromanagement can cause, and why organisations can benefit from a backseat approach à la Netflix.
Is micromanaging the worst trait a boss can have? New research by Comparably seems to support this notion. The study, which drew from online interviews from 2,000 employees from US-based organisations of varying sizes, found that micromanagement outranked “overly critical”, “disorganised” and “impatient” as the top problem employees have with their bosses.
What’s the problem?
Far from being merely an employee grumble, the negative effects of micromanaging on both company culture and output has been well documented.
“Micromanaging dents your team’s morale by establishing a tone of mistrust – and it limits your team’s capacity to grow,” says renowned leadership coach Muriel Maignan Wilkins in a Harvard Business Review piece.
It’s also detrimental to managers themselves, whose focus on other team members can hinder their ability to attend to more pressing matters.
“If your mind is filled with the micro-level details of a number of jobs, there’s no room for big picture thoughts,”says Karen Dillon, former editor of HBR.
Are you the problem?
Although most managers are aware of the negative consequences of micromanaging, knowing if they are guilty of it themselves can be challenging; learning how to stop it even more so.
Ben Schwartz, CEO of tech company VividCortex, notes that micromanagement is often unintentional.
“Depending on the hierarchies in your organisation, your two cents, casually tossed out, might be received as an official command – whether or not that’s your intention,” he says. “Make sure you’re clear that an opinion or half-baked idea is only that, and you trust your team to consider it and go their own way.”
He also suggests running through a checklist. Are your employees consistently waiting on you to make decisions? Are you at the centre of most team interactions? If so, you might be guilty of micromanagement.
Professional Development Expert Susanne Biro says managers can avoid this by clarifying what their role in the organisation is.
“What are the top two to three key things someone at your level of leadership should be spending the majority of his or her time on? Write down your answers and review it daily. Then, focus on doing your job,” she says.
“Part of this includes ensuring your direct reports understand your expectations, and have all the information, resources and tools to do their jobs. Suit them up, then get out of their way!”
When Netflix’s “culture deck” was first posted online in 2009, it was widely praised for its focus on employee autonomy.
The deck, which continues to be updated, is over 100 slides, and includes an extensive section entitled “context not control”.
“The best managers figure out how to get great outcomes by setting the appropriate context, rather than trying to control their people,” one slide reads.
Another addresses managers directly.
“When you are tempted to control your people, ask yourself what context you could set instead. Are you articulate enough about goals and strategies?”
Last week at a TED conference in Vancouver, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings spoke about his commitment to a creating a workplace that empowers employees following a culture of micromanagement at his first company, Pure Software.
“We were trying to dummy-proof the system, and eventually only dummies wanted to work there,” he says.
Now, at Netflix he has tried a more hands-off approach.
“I pride myself on making as few decisions as possible in a quarter,” he says. “We’re getting better and better at that. Sometimes I can go a whole quarter without making any decisions.”
Instead, he aims to empower employees to make good decisions themselves – from how much holiday leave they take, to making decisions that impact the business more broadly. It’s a choice he says helps both output and workplace culture.
“We’re very focused on trying to get to good decisions with a good debate,” he says.
It’s a culture that has served the company well. Hastings announced at the conference that the company is set to invest $US 8 billion in original content this year.
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