Scientific Proof That Micro-Management is Bad For Your Company (And How to Fix It)

Last Updated Aug 15, 2011 6:52 AM EDT

Some of you reading this are micro-managers.

You may not recognize yourself in that statement. You just care about details, or your employees aren't competent, or it's critical that you know everything that is going on because it's your reputation/company/paycheck on the line. The reality, is, though, that a new study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology showed that people who believe they are being watched perform at a lower level.

Yikes. Time to back off.

Backing off is scary because there are certainly employees who will spend the entire day surfing the internet, texting their friends, and complaining about how much work they are doing if left to their own devices. The problem occurs when managers cannot differentiate between the bad employees and the good employees who they driving crazy by the constant oversight.

If you are one of those managers who is 100% sure your entire department will go to hell in a hand basket the minute you shut your office door, then I propose a little experiment.

Sit down and figure out clear performance goals for your staff. This stage actually takes a great deal of work if you haven't been on top of it in the past. Just what do you expect from your employees? Are those expectations rational?

Stop caring about the unimportant. Sometimes we think everything is important. If an employee doesn't format an excel spreadsheet the way we would, it's a disaster! Well, probably not. Sure, if it's a published report that needs to be in the exact same as all the other published reports it's something that it's important. If it's not, or if it's a one-off type of thing, as long as it's readable, let it go. Likewise for things such as the order tasks are completed in.

Meet with your employees one and one. Sit down and go over the expected goals with each employee so that they all know what their expectations are.

Tell your employees to come to you if they have a problem. Let them know that you are there to help, but that you trust that they can accomplish the tasks at hand.

Resist the urge to hover. Double the length of time you went between "checking in" with your employees.

Not all your employees will react the same way to this new found freedom. Your good employees will be so relieved you'll probably quickly notice a difference in their attitude and hopefully performance. They may come to you more often then they should because they've come to expect criticism and oversight on every step, but the longer this process continues, the less that will occur.

Your bad employees, on the other hand, will be overjoyed and start totally goofing off. Now, this will cause you to go screaming, "I told you that the only way to get these *%@!!! to perform was to monitor their every breath." To which I will reply, excellent. That means they are not the type of employees you want. Put them on performance improvement plans with 60 days to get their act together and then fire them if they don't improve.

There are literally thousands of people qualified to do that specific job out there. Sure there are some really unique jobs that are difficult to fill, but most jobs are not like that. There are unemployed marketers, sales people, manufacturing supervisors, line workers, accountants, scientists, human resources managers, editors, engineers, and even fast food workers everywhere. Hire one of them to replace your slackers.

The end result of this is that you may have some initial culture shock as your employees adjust to your new form of managing. However, as you stop the micro-managing the performance level will increase. Which, of course, serves to make you look better. And that's what you're hoping for right? Higher performance, less stress and happy employees.

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Photo by Adelphi Lab Center, Flickr cc 2.0

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