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Nothing Micro About This Menace

One of the greatest examples of a micromanager extraordinaire who learnt the advantages of effective delegation was none other than Steve Jobs

Photo Credit : PTI


A few years ago, a Gallup poll of more than one million employed US workers concluded that a proverbial ‘bad boss’ was the single biggest reason for people to quit their jobs. According to that survey, an alarming 75 per cent of workers who voluntarily left their jobs did so because of their bosses and not the position itself.

So, what qualifies one as a ‘bad boss’? Well, multiple surveys in the past, including one last year which covered more than 2,000 employees of Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook and Uber, put micromanagement at the top.

The question is: even after all these years, why are so many of us still micromanaging? Well, a study of organisational behaviour shows most leaders who micromanage do so because they feel powerless. This frequently occurs when high-performing individual contributors, who are not accustomed to working through others, get promoted to leadership positions. Hardly surprising, if you ask me, because the specific skills of coaching, delegating, decision-making and teamwork don’t come naturally to all. If managing everything by myself and relying only on myself got me thus far, it will help me at this stage of my career too, they seem to believe.

Now, some of you are probably itching to bring up the fact that you almost always find something wrong with your team’s work. Behavioural science has an explanation for this. Cognitive bias. In other words, people who only seek evidence that supports their beliefs or expectations will make decisions that favour their desired outcome. So, when you propagate a culture of micromanagement, you are, probably unknowingly, guilty of perpetrating the set-up-to-fail syndrome, now a well-recognised management phenomenon.

Let me explain. According to the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Experimental Psychology, people who believe they are being watched perform at a lower level. In fact, groups that adapt to a micromanagement style are either quietly rebellious or hapless, unable to make any independent decisions, or just simply disengaged. This leaves you, the leader, to constantly have to deal with issues, rather than be able to focus on the larger tasks that only you can perform. And before you know it, the perception that your team won’t do a good job starts to become a reality. In fact, the 2006 book The Elements of Great Managing by Gallup Press, says, ‘Disengagement-driven turnover costs most sizable businesses millions every year.’ Imagine what that figure must stand at today! By contrast, highly engaged teams average 18 per cent higher productivity and 12 per cent greater profitability than the least engaged teams.

Do you see the sense in my argument?
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am in no way advocating that leaders give up all control. There is a difference between delegation and abdication after all. But it is a delicate dance and one that is best performed when you are not monitoring every step of your team but at the same time have created enough mechanisms that help you keep control either through measurement or regular reviews. So, learn to prioritise what tasks you will do and what your team is expected to accomplish. Set goals at the beginning and have periodic check-ins to determine progress. Focus on the bigger picture, set overall systems and processes if you must, but let your team feel like they have the reigns of control. Did you know one of the greatest examples of a micromanager extraordinaire who learnt the advantages of effective delegation was none other than Steve Jobs?

So yes, helicopter bosses rarely steer their workforce out of the storm. And I’m sure you don’t want to waste your energy putting out the cinders when you should be equipping yourself for the bigger fires when they come raging at the doorstep.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Apurva Purohit

The author is President of the Jagran Group

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