A former director once told me, “People don’t leave companies; they leave their bosses.”
It was an odd moment.
I had a fantastic relationship with my director, but we both knew there wouldn’t be a growth chance for me there. Without searching for a new role, I received an offer I couldn’t refuse. When I shared the news, my boss was speechless.
He wanted to know what he could’ve done better. I told him I wasn’t leaving because of him, but I got an opportunity that I couldn’t pass on. I felt terrible about letting him down. He was one of the best bosses I’ve ever had.
I reflected on what my boss said about people leaving bosses, not companies. But looking back, I think people tend to quit because of micromanagement.
Without freedom, people feel imprisoned and cannot bring their best to work. That’s what micromanagers contribute to.
In this article, you will learn what micromanagement is, how it influences your team, and how you can move beyond it.
Micromanagers excessively monitor their team’s progress, which demotivates them and builds resentment towards you.
Considering a software company, a micromanager would do the following:
Working with micromanagers is hard. Many interruptions will cause context switches and will slow teams down.
At first glance, one may think micromanagers are evil, but that’s not true. It’s common for someone new to the job to get too close to the team to the point that it breaks teams.
Micromanagers may know better than the team how to get the job done, but they forget that their responsibility as a manager isn’t the doing anymore. That’s when micromanagers tend to cross the line.
Have you ever worked with someone who continuously asks how you’re progressing and even sneaks at your WIP outputs?
How did you feel about it?
If you did, you know how detrimental this can be to productivity and morale. To illustrate that, let me share a true story with you.
We were redesigning our product cards and wanted to test multiple variants before committing to one. Our CPO was new to the job, but a pretty experienced product manager. After agreeing to this goal, the CPO cornered me and said:
“David, I looked at the backlog and found no related user stories. I also looked at the designs, and they are too amateur. You need to take care of it.”
I was annoyed and told her, “Redesigning the cards became a priority yesterday. I didn’t have the time to conclude it yet, and I remember telling you we’d run interviews and prototype testing tomorrow.” She interrupted me, “Yes. I remember, but no backlog items. Raw design?” Frustrated, I said, “Let me take care of it.”
I was disturbed and felt mistrusted. That day, my productivity went down, but I kept moving. I worked on the prototype with our UX Designer and structured the interview. At around seven, I went home.
As I arrived in the office the next day, the CPO cornered me again, “Hey David, quick question, why are you asking the users to share a story of when they bought an imported wine? What does that have to do with redesigning our cards? I disagreed with the questions and helped you by reshaping the interviews.”
That wasn’t the start of the day I imagined. Annoyed, I said, “What? Did you change what we worked on yesterday without talking to me?” The CPO said, “Yes, I had to. I want to prevent a bad interview.”
Once the designer saw what the CPO did, she said, “David, I’m out. That’s not how I work. I’m quitting.”
Agreements are crucial to dealing with micromanagers. The reasons someone behaves this way vary, but the most common I’ve seen is a lack of trust. And trust isn’t a given. It’s something we must earn.
To continue with the story, I couldn’t afford the designer to quit, so I had to deal with this situation. I went to the CPO and said, “We cannot work like this. When you change our work, I feel diminished and mistrusted. And our designer cannot deal with it anymore and wants to quit. I want to make you an offer.”
The CPO looked puzzled, “I don’t want to diminish you. I want to help because I’ve done what you’re doing many times, but I’m all ears. Shoot it.”
I said, “I want you to hold us accountable for agreements. I don’t want you sneaking into my work, but I want you to help when I raise a hand. I love your resonance when we create something, but it’s disturbing when you criticize something we’re still working on.”
“Hum… Do you want me to set an agreement with you and not look at what’s going on until the deadline? Is that correct?” Said the CPO. I promptly answered, “Yes. We talk and take measures if I fail, but you allow me to progress. No worries, I will involve you when I need to.”
To my surprise, the CPO was open to that. Nobody had this kind of conversation with her before. We changed how we work by setting agreements and discussing them. Over time, we agreed to the following:
In my experience, micromanagers land in this situation as a byproduct of a lack of trust or pressure. I haven’t met anyone who loved being a micromanager. On the contrary, all the micromanagers I got to know were super stressed.
Collaboration and feedback are the best way to help micromanagers move out of this situation. The story I shared is real, and the CPO told me months later that when I shared, I felt diminished, which broke her because she valued my job.
Share feedback and offer a different way of working. That’s how I perceived it as an alternative to getting micromanagers to become leaders.
I don’t perceive micromanagement as an option for any situation. Here are some other cases that can drive micromanagement:
Micromanagement is often a byproduct of a lack of trust and excessive pressure. Strive to create agreements with micromanagers and ask them to hold you accountable for results instead of steps inside tasks.
You should also give candid feedback to micromanagers because they may not be aware of how detrimental their actions are to productivity and morale.
Remember, micromanagement has no place in a team, even in crisis mode. Collaboration enables progress and great results.
Featured image source: IconScout
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