How to handle a micro manager

CAROLINE JAMES
Last updated 12:29 21/01/2014

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"You can spot them a mile off," says Anne-Marie Orrock, managing director of Corporate Canary HR Consulting.

Workplace micro managers often attract unflattering nicknames - brown-nose, martyr, slavedriver - demand extensive progress reports before any opportunity to progress, and hover over shoulders as we dot corporate i's and cross t's.

Usually highly conscientious by nature, ironically most don't see the effect their control-freakish approach is having on their staff, says Orrock.

"Micro managers are extremely common in workplaces but are usually unaware they are micro managing, and because it is driven by their personality profile and not an external thing that can be turned off, micro managing is very hard to change."

But there is good commercial reason to try. Relentless workplace micro managing eventually smothers staff creativity, morale and productivity.

Tony Gleeson, chief executive of the Australian Institute of Management Victoria and Tasmania, said the AIM's 2013 Employee Engagement Survey of 2223 professionals found 38 per cent did not agree with the statement "my manager helps me perform at my best".

Gleeson believes the survey result is largely due to micro managers.

"Some people won't like this but I actually think micro management is worse for an organisation than having no management at all," he says.

"It eats away at organisations, strangling productivity, creativity and general growth, because employees stop speaking up due to these bosses' controlling ways and this makes a really serious problem."

Sally Foley-Lewis was micro managed while working as a senior project officer in a large organisation.

Foley-Lewis, who today works independently as a management trainer, speaker, coach and author, says "I have suffered the doom of a micro manager and it was suffocating".

Her former supervisor constantly "checked up" on her and habitually hijacked her assigned projects without asking.

"Quite often this person would come to me and say 'here you go, this is where I got to' and I would say 'hang on, we had that conversation and you gave that task to me to do'; it was really quite stifling and frustrating."

Foley-Lewis stayed in the job for three years but says she isn't bitter. Her experiences help her understand what causes micro management and how to combat it.

Some micro managers are dealing with pressures from above, some emerge when they begin their first middle management role after excelling as junior workers, many are newly appointed by the company; and all are under-confident, hence their obsessive need to control the minutiae of daily business.

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"Once I could see it was merely their style [and] that they didn't feel confident unless they had a tight grip on everything, it made more sense to me and I could then see a way to manage that relationship," Foley-Lewis says.

"I set a series of short discussions [with this person], confirming how information should be exchanged, and in a fairly short timeframe was able to reassure my micro manager of what I was working on and most importantly when I would report progress; and this progress reporting was what seemed to give my micro manager greater confidence in me."

If, however, you spot any of these boss behaviours - regular outbursts, "singling out" an employee, constant nit-picking and/or personal attacks - speak to a more senior manager, corporate leadership expert and author Cheryl Daley recommends.

"It is important to distinguish between someone who is a micro manager as opposed to a corporate bully," Daley says.

"If you are subjected to these 'red flag' behaviours, have a conversation [with the person], and if that doesn't resolve the issue, have a conversation with someone beyond them."

The most effective way to deal with a micro manager is "micro manage back up the chain", Daley suggests.

Here are seven strategies for achieving greater autonomy:

 - Work out what drives the micro manager: insecurity, pressure from above, lack of confidence or trust in you.

 - Keep emotion at bay and, when broaching the topic, present quantifiable evidence of the impact their behaviour is having on your productivity;

 - "Adapt your style to match theirs; they will like this and it may gain you more breathing spaces," Foley-Lewis suggests;

 - Get to know them, acknowledge they have a heavy load of responsibility and ask 'is there any way I can help make life easier?';

 - Be proactive: approach them before they come looking for you and dazzle them with highly detailed documentation proving you are completely across a delegated task;

 - Ask the micro manager what, when and how they like to receive information;

 - Reassure your micro manager that you will report progress regularly - agree a schedule - and never miss those deadlines.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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