Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mis-Managers 4: Micro-Managers - People, Design & Process

In a recent blog post I raised the issue of Mis-Managers and the damage they can cause to not only their direct reports, but to the organization as a whole (see Mis-Managers: How Bad Managers Can Poison the Well). I also discussed how such Mis-Managers typically got promoted into their positions and “reached their level of incompetence”. This blog post is the fourth in the Mis-Manager series (see also Mis-Managers 2: Janus & Old YellerMis-Managers 3: Builder-Upper & Tearer-Downer, Mis-Managers 5: Power Tripper & Turf Builder, and Mis-Managers 6: Mentor, Tactician & Strategist, and Mis-Managers 7: Hands-Off, Wheeler-Dealer, Credit Taker/Thief & A$$hole) that describes some specific Mis-Manager personality types, the ways they create problems, and some suggestions as to how employees can attempt to survive, and hopefully prosper, with such Mis-Managers. The challenge of effectively dealing with Mis-Managers can be daunting, as they typically determine (or significantly influence) their Employees futures. As with my Herding Cats series of blog posts (see Herding Cats: The Art of "Managing" Knowledge WorkersHerding Cats 2: Problem Child & Elitist BastardHerding Cats 3: Boss Wannabe & Social ButterflyHerding Cats 4: "Wally" & Prima DonnaHerding Cats 5: Solid Citizen, Valued Expert & Rising Star, and Herding Cats 6: Complainer/Whiner, Eternal Optimist, Chesire Cat, Loner, Credit Taker/Thief & A$$hole), which discuss knowledge worker (see Knowledge Is Power!) personality types, I purposefully describe characteristics that are more extreme, and that concentrate on one specific attribute, than will normally be the case. Clearly every Manager (and Mis-Manager) is an individual with characteristics that are unique, and most have a variety of personality characteristics. Every situation is also unique and should be treated in a unique fashion.  The suggestions that I make for approaching a Mis-Manager are just one person’s view – mine. Given the position of power that a Mis-Manager may occupy, think carefully about your best approach. 

Micro-Managers (MM’s) come in different flavors, but all have some common characteristics.  They all get involved far too deeply in the minutiae of various aspects of their areas of responsibility (see To a Carpenter with a Hammer, Every Problem Looks Like a Nail). They refuse to let those charged with specific responsibilities carry out those responsibilities without excessive interference. In some cases, they are newly promoted managers who haven’t yet learned to let go of their individual contributor roles; there is hope for such Micro-Manager’s to learn and grow. In other cases, they are managers who are apparently born with a busybody gene that prevents them from getting out of the way and letting their people do their jobs. The result is disruptive and demoralizing to the entire group reporting to such Mis-Managers – they simply don’t trust their people, and their people know it and resent it. This is especially true for knowledge workers, who generally bring strong technical skills, training, discipline, and independence to their jobs and want to be given the opportunity and trust to do their jobs well (see Learn From Good Role Models; Learn More From Bad!). Below are three flavors of Micro-Managers, how their micro-management style manifests itself, and what employees can do to most effectively deal with them. 

The People Micro-Manager: 
The Challenge:  The People Micro-Manager wants to know what every employee is doing at every point in time, and will adjust every employee’s activity or interaction (minor or major) to satisfy his/her personal agenda. To such a manager, employees are pawns in a chess game, the objectives of which only he/she can see, and the contributions and initiatives that the employees can bring to solving problems are of little value or interest. Especially for knowledge workers, such a demeaning and arrogant attitude is devastating.  Knowledge workers want to be recognized and appreciated for what they can bring to the organization (see Pigasus - When Pigs Fly!), and they are not valued at all by the People Micro-Manager. It is as if they are just small cogs in some huge machine. 
The Employee Approach:  If you have any ability to penetrate this attitude, meet with your People Micro-Manager in private, and let him/her know of your concerns and what this attitude does to you, the group, and the organization as a whole. You may need to speak with peers of your People Micro-Manager to see if they can get through. If this doesn’t work, perhaps meeting with this manager’s boss may help, although going around him/her comes with potential danger. If nothing works, it probably makes sense to get out of the group or the company (see Know When To Fold 'Em and When It's Time 'To Walk Away', Don't Turn Back!). This is an unhealthy situation to live in. 

The Design Micro-Manager: 
The Challenge: The Design Micro-Manager is all about using the “right” design approaches that he/she thinks are needed to do the job. This may be about choosing the “right” architecture, or programming approach, or design elements, etc. The Design Micro-Manager must get involved in every design decision, no matter how large or small, and demands that his/her opinion be accepted, or, at a minimum, that he/she must approve all technology and design decisions (see What Horse's Ass Said You Should Do It That Way?). To a degree this can be valuable if the Design Micro-Manager is truly an expert with insights others may not have. However, as most managers are busy, when they insert themselves into every decision, progress can slow to a halt, leaving otherwise productive knowledge workers twiddling their thumbs waiting for approval. Further, if creative designers have to battle the Design Micro-Manager over every design decision, they will soon stop trying to present new, and often more effective design ideas. With time, they may look elsewhere for employment, and critical talent may be lost from the organization. 

The Employee Approach:  As a first step, speak privately with the Design Micro-Manager, and make him/her aware of the negative impact this approach is having on timeliness and creativity. Ask his/her suggestions on how to overcome these problems. If you get nowhere, then it may be time to speak to someone else in a position of responsibility for the program, project, or product to make it clear why the group can’t deliver on time or why more creative approaches are not being pursued. It is most critical to deliver quality designs on time, and your Design Micro-Manager is impeding such delivery. This problem is bigger than him/her and must be dealt with. 

The Process  Micro-Manager: 
The Challenge:  For the Process Micro-Manager, it’s all about the way things are done, and less about whether things are done well. The Process Micro-Manager dictates the process knowledge workers must follow to “properly” develop new products, programs, or projects. He/she then spends all his/her waking moments making sure everyone follows the process, often whether it’s working or not. Any activities outside the process are discouraged or forbidden, even if they are productive and effective. Any activities within the process are encouraged or demanded, even if they are proven failures. Everything is sacrificed to the “process god” (see To a Carpenter With a Hammer, Every Problem Looks Like a Nail). Such can be the perversion of the Process Micro-Manager. Clearly, a certain level of process is required and expected (see Development Methodology: Too Little, Too Much, or "Just Right"?), but for knowledge workers who are trying their best to turn out high quality products, programs, or projects in a timely fashion, following the process for the process’s sake just doesn’t make sense. Knowledge workers caught in such a situation will often rebel and look for a way out, even if it means leaving the company (see Floggings Will Continue Until Morale Improves!). 

The Employee Approach: First, attempt to speak in private with the Process Micro-Manager and make clear your concerns, and to see what he/she has to say. Talk about the importance of the end goal rather than just the process, and that following the process may not achieve the end goal. If this gets you nowhere, then find a person in a position of authority and explain the situation. The success of the company in delivering high quality products, programs, or projects on time is more critical than the success of the Process Micro-Manager, and action must be taken to correct the situation. 

These are just three more of many Mis-Manager personality types that you will come across in knowledge worker-based (and other) organizations. I’ll get into more in subsequent blog posts. The negative impact of Mis-Managers on companies cannot be overstated. The key is to recognize the various personality types and to approach them in the most effective way to help both groups and their Mis-Managers. Employees must recognize that Mis-Managers hold positions of direct authority over them, and so must approach them carefully. They must walk a fine line and find what works best for them. Their work environment, and future, may depend upon it. 

[Note: Please let me know if there are Mis-Manager personality types you’d like spotlighted.  I’ll do my best to accommodate you.]


  1. Good article! It amazes me how often incompetent or power-tripping managers destroy the morale and efficiency of the workplace and immediately blame their employees for it. I believe that such things are the result of major self-confidence issues.

  2. To Anonymous: Thanks! I completely agree about the impact bad managers can have on morale and efficiency. You might also check out Mis-Managers 5: Power Tripper & Turf Builder (see, which specifically addresses Power Trippers. I agree that self-confidence may be a cause, as can arrogance, self-importance, inability to see what they're doing and many other causes. If there is anything I can do to help address mis-manager issues you see, please let me know.

    Thanks - Tom


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