Author: Phil Hartwick
First Published: 2021
Answer: It depends how often you engage, what you talk about, and how much directing you do with your people.
Precaution: I have never met a person that agreed they were a micromanager, that didn’t also rationalise what they were doing as being a good thing for several, or many reasons. Most micromanagers do what they do with the best of intentions.
If you really want to know if you are a micromanager, just get someone that is trusted by your people to ask them – and they will spill the beans – but probably not to you. After all, they know your style is not likely to change overnight!
Ask yourself this question: How DO you ‘check-in’ with your people?
If your style of check-ins with your people meets most or all of the following criteria, you are what I think most people consider a micromanager.
1. You check-in a lot – in an unscheduled way, and expect the person to drop what they are doing to respond to you.
2. You drive the agenda – you ask lots of questions, and it’s all (or firstly) about the work and what they’ve done or not done.
3. You tend to give instructions – about what to do next, or make decisions about how to fix what has been done, even if someone isn’t asking.
So how can we prevent micro-managing?
We think one of the answers is to change your practice of how you check-in.
Set up a practice of having regularly scheduled one on one check-ins with each of your people that you can hold yourself to. Then get out of their way – unless they really need to talk to you.
What should a regular one on one check-in with each of your team members look more like?
Here are our suggestions:
1. These should be held in private and remain confidential. Where? They could be held off site in an informal setting, or virtually on-line, but on-site or off, where you can both speak without being overheard. They should be intimate, where they and you can be vulnerable, and not feel rushed.
2. They should be regular enough that things that are important to your people can get discussed before they go out of date – we would suggest weekly or bi-weekly.
3. The agenda should be mostly determined by them, but you can contribute to it, and it doesn’t have to be the same each session; each meeting might have a different focus. We encourage 3 areas that should be covered across the meetings;
any issues or problems with the work they or you need to talk about,
their personal development and how it is progressing
their well-being generally.
4. Your people should help you plan 1-3 above – you ideally should co-create your check-ins together which means the check-ins are likely to be different from person to person.
5. You are able to attend at least 80% or more of these meetings and you’re mentally ‘present’ – not postponing, or cancelling, or trying to answer calls, checking your devices or doing other work at the same time.
Although most leaders can see value in having one on ones, and know they should be meeting regularly, they take up valuable time and often get deprioritised as more urgent matters take over. Of course, this sends a signal that your people can wait, and assumes that they won’t read too much into being a low priority.
Here are the classic comments we hear from individuals on our own leadership programmes:
“ My manager often cancels our meetings at short notice”
“ I rarely see my manager. They are always in meetings.”
“My manager sits near me, so we see each other all the time and don’t have meetings”
“ When we do meet, we only talk about the work, and it’s mainly discussing statuses.”
One on ones are your opportunity to hear how your people are feeling overall.
If people are meeting with you in a confidential setting and they know that you care about how they are, you will hear more about how they are coping mentally and physically.
How are they fitting in with others on the team? How they are feeling about the customers they are working with, or other key stakeholders? How are they feeling about you, their manager and the support you do or don’t provide?
We know we are living in a time that anxiety and depression is common and the pressures people face outside of work can have a detrimental effect on them at work. It’s part of your role to check-in regularly with a caring intent, whether you are together in the same office or not.