Business Bites: Micromanagement

Nick Walsh FBDO SMC (Tech)
ABDO head of corporate development

The dictionary definition of micromanagement is: “To manage especially with excessive control or attention to details”. Without doubt, employees and teams benefit from the support and guidance of managers and leaders in the business, but is it possible to overdo the ‘help’?

For many employees, the unnecessary or unwanted help can be counterproductive and discouraging. So how do you identify micromanagement and how do you make sure you’re not doing it?

Balance is the key for productive work relationships. It would be wrong to be at the other end of the scale with a laissez-faire attitude when help is needed, just as it would be wrong to keep interjecting with unneeded help and advice. By allowing teams enough freedom to undertake tasks, they will grow in their roles and the knowledge possessed by your team will expand.

If you think you are micromanaging, or have been told you are, begin by reflecting on your own behaviour. If you are micromanaging: ask yourself why?

  • Is it down to a lack of delegation skills (you think you can do it better or more quickly yourself)?
  • Is it that you think that thing will reflect badly on you if a project is done in a different manner to how you would have done it?
  • Do you think others will perceive you as out of touch if you aren’t the one leading the project?

A great starting point is for your team to know that you are there to support them when they need it, and that you are willing to offer help when they need it. Employees need to be comfortable to ask for your help, and not just when problems arise, but beforehand too.


Although it may feel counterintuitive, it’s best not to try to pre-empt every possible problem and intervene. When your team identify a problem, don’t look to dive in with a solution; allow them time to think about the issue themselves and to come up with possible solutions. Let them decide when they will come to you for guidance.

When they do come for advice, take plenty of time to listen to their thoughts and processes to understand how they have got to their possible solutions, then ask how they believe that you can help. Any questions that you ask should simply be to clarify points. In this fashion, employees are much more open to your advice and guidance as it isn’t forced on them and is instead requested. They will value your expertise.

Your role

Be wary of the power dynamic that exists. Your team may see your intervention as a sign that you are unhappy with what they are doing or how they are doing it. The challenge then is that they may become tempted to hide some of the issues from you as they won’t want to be seen to be failing. Explain that your role is to help and not to take over or judge what they are doing. Clarify your intentions when you become involved to make it clear that you are merely there as an adviser.

People’s needs

Sometimes the need will be for intensive and short-term support on an issue; and at other times it will be for lower-level ongoing support. Stay informed about issues your employees are facing, and step in when you see roadblocks and pinch points you can remove. Don’t underestimate the importance of staying informed about the work. Failure to do so can result in at best vague advice and, at worst, unneeded criticisms.

Leaders should maintain enough general knowledge about the project to understand emerging needs but rarely dive into the core work. This enables them to act as a pressure relief on the project when their help is needed.

Key here is still clarifying your role so as not to leave employees feeling undermined or demoralised. You are there to help to the extent that they need, and no further. They are still in control of the work in hand.

12 strategies if you need to stop micromanaging (Forbes)

1. Physically remove yourself from the group
2. Manage expectations, not tasks
3. Only do what only you can do
4. Ask employees how they want to be managed
5. Focus on managing your culture
6. Trust your team
7. Adopt a fail-forward attitude
8. Create transparency in project management
9. Be a facilitator, not a taskmaster
10. Encourage an environment of intrapreneurship
11. Set aside your personal desire to ‘win’
12. Give them more responsibility than you’re comfortable with

In summary

Managers and leaders can help their employees in hands-on ways without being perceived as micromanaging:
• Pay careful attention to timing
• Explain your helping role at the outset of the project
• Match the team’s needs

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