Micromanagement is inappropriate interference in the work of subordinates by supervisors. Most of us are familiar with it, because it's so painful and memorable. Other forms of inappropriate interference are less familiar, perhaps because they happen less often, and because the target of the interference often does have power to respond.
Another form of inappropriate interference is reverse micromanagement — interference by subordinates in the work of their organizational superiors. Examples include openly questioning decisions or policies, confrontation, willful disobedience, organizational coups d'etat, or covert insubordination.
Usually, we blame the reverse micromanagers. We advise them to mind their own jobs, or we initiate (or threaten them with) "corrective action plans." Sometimes, the subordinate's own behavior is the sole cause, and these actions do work.
But when there are other causes, focusing on the reverse micromanager probably isn't the answer. And then, even termination won't help, because the other causes remain in place to help create new reverse micromanagers.
Here are some examples of causes that reside beyond the reverse micromanager.
- Failure to lead
- When management's decisions don't make sense to the managed, they often question those decisions, sometimes aloud. Perhaps the decisions are flawed, but often, management simply hasn't worked hard enough to bring about the needed level of understanding.
- Some managers believe that employees should just do what they're told, and that management isn't obliged to lead — an approach that worked better 100 years ago. In today's knowledge-driven organizations, only true leadership works.
- Effective leadership — headlong over a cliff
- When management's decisions
don't make sense to the
managed, they often question
those decisions, sometimes aloud
- Sometimes management's decisions are mistaken, and some of the people of the organization know they are. When this happens, some feel the need to question these decisions or otherwise try to put them right. The urge is especially strong if the organization is in a weakened state, or if management has made missteps before.
- Reverse micromanagement in these cases is a gift not to be refused. Still, since it can create difficulty by threatening organizational order, it's best to seek ways to channel these contributions to make them formally acceptable. More important, determine and remove the cause(s) of the missteps.
- Inadequate growth opportunities
- In today's flat, contractor-staffed organizations, the able find too little opportunity for career growth. Some stay in positions they've long ago outgrown. These valuable employees are lost to the organization — a loss that was somehow not accounted for when we flattened the hierarchy or decided to outsource.
- People in these circumstances can become cynical sources of trouble. Find ways to give them paths to success. They're too valuable to let go.
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Micromanagement and reverse micromanagement are just two forms of inappropriate interference in the work of others. Two more are lateral micromanagement and diagonal micromanagement — topics for another time.
For more about micromanagement, see "When Your Boss Is a Micromanager," Point Lookout for December 5, 2001; "There Are No Micromanagers," Point Lookout for January 7, 2004; "Are You Micromanaging Yourself?," Point Lookout for November 24, 2004; and "How to Tell If You Work for a Nanomanager," Point Lookout for March 7, 2007.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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