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Why Is Micromanagement So Infectious?

When you delegate work to those beneath you, you are still in a sense responsible for the outcome. The same can be said of the person to whom you report. In this way, a chain of responsibility is created—a chain of nervous people worried about results. In an article for Harvard Business Review, Niko Canner and Ethan Bernstein explain how technology is exacerbating this issue, and how micromanagement can be avoided.

The Disease of Control

Automated processes grant us more information about our work environment than ever before, including the ways that subordinates are performing work. When we have copious data at our fingertips on the minutia of the work employees are performing, we become more likely to make comments about their work. And these comments can pile up into a form of micromanagement.

If you want to trust yourself to delegate to employees once and then be able to back off, the authors say there must be four elements included in the tasks prescribed:

  • Clear targets
  • Sufficient, but not stifling, restraints
  • A shared understanding
  • Effective oversight

A clear target consists of the employee both knowing what the goal is and what a “good” realization of that goal looks like. The authors give the example that “client satisfaction” is a viable goal, but it must be articulated what satisfaction entails. This ties directly into the idea of shared understanding between boss and subordinate. Never assume that everyone is on the same page. Make it explicit.

About constraints, the authors share this:

If you don’t have enough constraints, you aren’t defining expectations clearly enough, which leads employees to flail and managers, in turn, to hover. Too many constraints, and you’re tying people’s hands. Telling the general counsel simply to “get the contract in place” and handing him the term sheet on a napkin is likely to work only for a routine transaction or a very special counsel. But saying “I’ll need to approve all edits in each step of the negotiation” will waste time. Either way, by understepping or overstepping, you end up failing as a sponsor.

Effective oversight is the one time where it is expected and welcome to bring yourself back into the mix. Oversight means making yourself available to assist the subordinate when impediments to goal completion arise, or it means changing the goal if the current one proves unattainable. In essence, this tip and the others are all about setting boundaries. When responsibilities and guidelines are all clearly delineated, the urge to micromanage should dissipate. If not, consider the possibility that you are just a whacko.

You can view the original article here: https://hbr.org/2016/08/why-is-micromanagement-so-infectious

About John Friscia

John Friscia is the Editor of Computer Aid's Accelerating IT Success. He began working for Computer Aid, Inc. in 2013 and continues to provide graphic design support for AITS. He graduated summa cum laude from Shippensburg University with a B.A. in English.

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