January 26, 2021
This is a part of a series that briefly introduces 20 different HR metrics that are based on passive data extracted from digital communication and collaboration platforms.
Micromanagement can be perceived differently by different groups of people. For more independent individuals, managers might overstep the boundaries and make them feel stifled even by simply asking them how work is going; for others - especially new hires - close supervision can be beneficial and seen as such. This individual perspective is valuable; however, quantifying micromanagement is vital for seeing the phenomenon in the company context and uncovering potential negative patterns.
Passive data offers ways of detecting micromanagement by seeing who participates in team meetings. Is the manager part of every meeting her team members attend? If the answer is yes, this likely signals that the manager has too much oversight and lacks trust in her employees.
Based on research by Leadership IQ, the optimum time superiors should spend with their employees each week is 6 hours. Above 10-15 hours, the benefits of superior exposure taper off, which is why our platform sounds the micromanagement alert when more than a third (37.5%, to be exact - which corresponds to 15 hours in a 40-hour work week) of all meetings are supervised. Fig. 1 shows how micromanagement in meetings can be visualized.
Fig. 1: Screenshot from Time is Ltd.’s analytics platform showing micromanagement in meetings over time. When the company switched to remote work in March 2020, micromanagement increased, with company top managers becoming more involved. But then we see that employees grew increasingly self-reliant over time.
Micromanagement can also manifest itself in other collaboration channels. Take email, for example: controlling managers will insist their team copy them in every conversation, no matter how unimportant. Sometimes, this practice is used to actually speed up responses (for example, when an employee needs something from a manager in another department). However, it can easily turn toxic - a Harvard Business Review study shows that this practice reduces trust between colleagues. Fig. 2 shows how micromanagement in the form of copying a direct supervisor can be visualized using passive data.
Fig. 2: Screenshot from Time is Ltd.’s analytics platform showing micromanagement on email by department. In Marketing, every second email employees send has their direct superior on copy, whereas in Data it is only every tenth email. Regardless of what we know about the management of these departments - are these behaviors desirable?
According to the old adage, employees leave their managers, not their employers. Despite some studies claiming that this is untrue and that development opportunities might play a larger role, the latest research concludes what HR has been aware of for a long time: that unsupportive and toxic managers contribute to employee turnover. It is a determinant that outweighs both pay and job satisfaction. Micromanagement is a contributing factor to this issue - one which has worse effects than making employees rush for the exit. It causes overreliance on managerial supervision, so even if people stay, they’re not given opportunities to grow and develop.
HR is well aware that old-fashioned management and micromanagement needs to be replaced by leadership - giving greater autonomy to employees and empowering them to do their jobs without constant control. However, changes are often simply a case of rebranding, instead of changing the underlying practices. Data on team communication can highlight the micromanagers who are masquerading as leaders.
How (and if) micromanagement constitutes a problem depends on the type of organization, team and its structure. As mentioned above, there are a number of situations where a higher degree of supervision is warranted and even welcome - managing newly formed teams or teams going through a crisis. For best business practice, these are the micromanagement-busting strategies that tend to work:
Develop your leaders
Leaders are made, not born. Managers need to understand how to develop relationships with their team and how to serve as bridges in their interaction with the rest of the company. At the same time, they need to be given the tools and led (that’s right, not managed) so that they use them.
Delegate, delegate, delegate
Delegation can make managers feel insecure. There are no absolute rules that can apply to everyone equally and in all situations. One helpful strategy would be to set guidelines for each team member and agree on what type of decisions they need to make together, what the manager needs to be informed about and what they can live peacefully without knowing.
Support, don’t manage… and don’t do the work
The instinct to jump in and finish work on the employee’s behalf can be strong, especially if it isn’t up to the manager’s standards. This will never help the person in question to reach them. The old proverb goes ‘give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’ Teach your team how to do the work, and it will pay off in future.
Use your 1:1 meetings wisely
There’s a tendency to see 1:1 meetings as another status report platform. Resist the urge to discuss short-term issues and manage - instead, view this format as an opportunity to connect with the employee, help them set goals and brainstorm ways to grow - and make sure it is the employee who takes ownership of her own development.
Is forcing employees to put every discussion in a public channel on Slack micromanagement? Maybe, but at the same time, this increased transparency might reduce the need on the manager’s part to individually reach out to each employee - in other words, to micromanage them.
As with any metric, it is important to put micromanagement into context. What types of meetings are supervised - where is the manager indicating levels of distrust, where is her presence lacking? Take a look at Fig. 3.
Fig. 3: Screenshot from Time is Ltd.’s analytics platform showing micromanagement in different types of meetings (within the same department, across the company and with external partners).
Another consideration might be the manager’s span of control. The larger the team, the fewer opportunities to have everyone under control. Watch out for managers that increase their level of supervision in line with their team size, as they might have time for anything else in their role.
Fig. 4: Screenshot from Time is Ltd.'s analytics platform showing the relationship between span of control (x-axis) and proportion of supervised meetings (y-axis), with departments represented by individual bubbles. Bubble size represents departments’ respective headcount. Departments in the right top quadrant are at risk as they tend to micromanage even with a large team headcount.