In business management, micromanagement is a management style where a manager closely observes or controls the work of his or her subordinates or employees. Micromanagement is generally used as a negative term.
Webster's Dictionary defines micromanage as: "to manage with great or excessive control, or attention to details".
Defining micromanagement from the micromanager's perspective, Michael Scott, a fictitious character in the satirical comedy The Office, described it as "management on a more personal level," in the process stating his preference for the term "microgement," a euphemism of his own invention.
The notion of micromanagement can be extended to any social context where one person takes an inappropriate level of control and influence over the members of a group.
Rather than giving general instructions on smaller tasks and then devoting his time to supervising larger concerns, the micromanager monitors and assesses every step of a business process and avoids delegation of decisions. Micromanagers are usually irritated when a subordinate makes decisions without consulting them, even if the decisions are totally within the subordinate's level of authority.
Micromanagement also frequently involves with requests for unnecessary and overly detailed reports ("reportomania"). A micromanager tends to require constant and detailed performance feedback and tends to be excessively focused on procedural trivia (often in detail greater than he can actually process) rather than on overall performance, quality and results. This focus on "low-level" trivia often delays decisions, clouds overall goals and objectives, restricts the flow of information between employees, and guides the various aspects of a project in different and often opposed directions. Many micromanagers accept such inefficiencies because those micromanagers consider the outcome of a project less important than their retention of control or of the appearance of control.
The most extreme cases of micromanagement constitute a management pathology closely related to, e.g., workplace bullying and narcissistic behavior. Micromanagement resembles addiction in that although most micromanagers are behaviorally dependent on control over others, both as a lifestyle and as a means of maintaining that lifestyle, many of them fail to recognize and acknowledge their dependence even when everyone around them observes it. Some severe cases of micromanagement arise from other underlying mental-health conditions such as obsessive–compulsive personality disorder, although not all allegations of such conditions by subordinates and other "armchair psychologists" are accurate.
Although micromanagement is often easily recognized by employees, micromanagers rarely view themselves as such. In a form of denial similar to that found in addictive behavior, micromanagers will often rebut allegations of micromanagement by offering a competing characterization of their management style, e.g., as "structured" or "organized."
Micromanagement can be distinguished from the mere tendency of a manager to perform duties assigned to a subordinate. When a manager can perform a worker's job more efficiently than the worker can, the result is merely suboptimal management: Although the company suffers lost opportunities because the manager would be still better at doing his own job (see comparative advantage), the worker's job is still being done well. In micromanagement, the manager not only tells a subordinate what to do but dictates how to do it despite the manager's lack of knowledge of how the task is best performed; in the process, the manager delegates responsibility but not authority.
The most frequent motivations for micromanagement, such as detail-orientedness, emotional insecurity, and doubts regarding employees' competence, are internal and related to the personality of the manager. However, external factors such as organizational culture, severe or increased time or performance pressure, and instability of managerial position (either specific to a micromanager's position or throughout an organization) may also play a role.
In many cases of micromanagement, managers select and implement processes and procedures not for business reasons but rather to enable themselves to feel useful and valuable and/or create the appearance of being so. A frequent cause of such micromanagement patterns is a manager's perception or fear that he lacks the competence and creative capabilities necessary for his position in the larger corporate structure. In reaction to this fear, the manager creates a "fiefdom" within which he selects performance standards not on the basis of their relevance to the corporation's interest but rather on the basis of of his or his division's ability to satisfy them.
Such motivations for micromanagement often intensify, at both the individual-manager and the organization-wide level, during times of economic hardship. In some cases, managers may have proper goals in mind but place disproportionate emphasis on the role of their division and/or on their own personal role in the furtherance of those goals. In others, managers throughout an organization may engage in behavior that, while protective of their division's interests or their personal interests, harms the organization as a whole.
Less frequently, micromanagement is a tactic consciously chosen for the purpose of eliminating unwanted employees: A micromanager may set unreachable standards that he then invokes as grounds for termination of those employees; these standards may be either specific to certain employees or generally applicable but selectively enforced only against particular employees. Alternatively, the micromanager may attempt by this or other means to create a stressful workplace in which the undesired employees no longer desire to participate; when such stress is severe or pervasive enough, its creation may be regarded as constructive discharge(also known in the United Kingdom as "constructive dismissal" and in the United States as "constructive termination").
Regardless of a micromanager's motive for his or her conduct, its potential effects include:
Because a pattern of micromanagement suggests to employees that a manager does not trust their work or judgement, it is a major factor in triggering disengagement. Disengaged employees invest time, but not effort or creativity, in the project to which they are assigned, and their apathy affects not only their own productivity but that of their colleagues.
Severe forms of micromanagement usually completely eliminate trust and can provoke anti-social behavior. They often rely on inducing fear in the employees to achieve more control and can severely affect self-esteem of employees as well as their mental and physical health. Since manager-employee relationships are thought to usually include a difference in power and age, psychological structures based on transference theory have been created to represent micromanagement relationships as if they were replicating issues in parent-child relationships, such as double binds, or having critical parents which inhibit development of adequate self-esteem. Micromanagement makes it extremely difficult for employees to develop their skills and to grow and learn. In many cases it may be the best option for them to change their employment as soon as possible.
Once micromanagement has taken hold in an organization, especially during times of organization-wide hardship, its eradication usually requires unilateral action by a person authorized to act on behalf of all divisions of the organization at once, e.g., a CEO or COO. To reverse trends toward micromanagement, the chosen leader must loosen the reins throughout the organization, often at the very time when individual managers' temptation to maintain control is at its highest.
Harry Chambers: "My Way or the Highway: The Micromanagement Survival Guide", Berrett-Koehler Publishers (2004), ISBN 978-1-57675-296-8