Are you a micromanager?

Last month, on the “FCW Insider” blog, we asked readers an open-ended question: How could your agency or manager make you happier and more successful on the job?

The first comment, from a Defense Department employee, set the stage for a long-threaded discussion on the problems of micromanagement at federal agencies.

“We have no trust, therefore we have micromanagement,” the reader wrote. “Of course, there can be no ‘empowerment’ for employees in this culture. Innovation and creativity are the enemies of senior management and have even been referred to as ‘Cowboy Culture,’ likened to lawlessness in the early Wild West.”

Micromanagement not only hinders innovation but also increases the workload, one reader wrote. “Because of the micromanagement, we spend up to 50 percent of our time proving that we are accountable by writing justifications and filling in data sheets showing that we are working!”
“I resent being micromanaged as if I am a child, not a professional,” said a reader who came to government after a stint in the commercial world. “The company I worked for in the private sector was in a totally different state. No one looking over my shoulder and I worked 12 to 14 hour days.”

We received more than two-dozen comments and letters in response to our question, most of which highlighted similar concerns.

Clearly, this was a job for management experts, so we summoned two: Mike Lisagor, a management consultant who frequently works with federal agencies, and Judy Welles, a former federal employee and an FCW.com blogger.

Instead of offering advice and consolation to the victims of micromanagement, we asked Mike to address the micromanagers. Judy, on the other hand, discusses a topic that might give new hope to the micromanaged: The idea of managing up.

After reading the following comments and responses, let us know what you think. Send an
e-mail to letters@fcw.com with “Micromanager” in the subject line. We will highlight your responses in the FCW Insider blog.

Comment from NoBodySpecial:
How could your agency or manager make you happier and more successful in your job? Explain where we are and where we are going. Communicate both up and down. Describe your expectations. Listen to others before you make decisions. Allow your managers to actually manage. Have faith in your people — they are good people. Take care of your employees — they also are working on their careers. Make the office environment a “safe feeling” place to come to each day. Tell employees where they stand. Never verbally abuse other workers. You can direct without pain/stress. Monitor to ensure diversity.

Memo to NoBodySpecial’s senior managers from Mike:
These are your employees. And in spite of what you may think, they really are suffering in no small part because of your leadership approach. And while I’m sure Judy Welles will advise them to take responsibility for their own situation, it is perhaps even more critical for the future of government information technology that you accept your share of the blame and commit to making the necessary changes.

Let’s face it. You can’t do the same things as an admiral that you did as an ensign. Yet one of your most difficult but necessary transitions is to let go of the details. It takes courage to entrust daily operations to others. This is especially tough for those of you who moved up through the ranks of the technology/operations staff. But unless you make this shift, your organization will almost definitely reach an impasse.

It is also important to listen to what your employees have to say. They can provide insights that help you avoid critical mistakes and determine what actions are necessary to pr ovide them with the necessary support. Unfortunately, organizations regularly promote otherwise talented managers who have poor interpersonal skills.

Sound like you? Then please get some professional help — and I don’t mean from a therapist. This weakness usually results in the inability to consider ideas that differ from yours, which stifles creativity. Your organization will eventually suffer from stagnation and degraded service.

Organizational growth requires innovation and change. This can’t happen if new ideas are suppressed. As managers, we need to engage in constructive conversations with our employees. The problems they reveal and insights they share with us are critical to long-term success.

What would happen if you decided to create harmony in your organization? If you saw the positive potential in each employee? Helped someone uncover his or her unique contribution to system success? Replaced blame and judgment with hope and initiative? Chose a mission that went beyond only your own financial or career advancement?

We’re all born members of one giant club: the human race. Eventually, we become constituents of many other smaller groups. The most important choice we make every morning is whether we transcend being passive members and rise up and take leadership roles. We’ve learned that technology alone can’t make the world a better place. But committed and compassionate managers can.

Comment from Anonymous:
Who cares?

Memo to Anonymous’ senior managers from Mike:
This response raises the question: How many of your employees have lost hope — no longer believing in their ability to make a difference? Do you even know? Being hidden from the light might work well for mushrooms, but not for government employees. When was the last time you had an all-hands meeting?

Are employees able or willing to bring forth their concerns? Do you regularly shoot the messenger? Before expecting your subordinates to take your goals seriously, you have to take them seriously.
You can start by asking them what support they need to do their job better and what roadblocks have been put in their way.

Who cares? Do you?

Comment from BlueAngel8404:
[Micromanagement] is all over the government. It is not the tangible items, but the micromanagement that feeds and breeds fear. Why don’t [senior executives] and upper management get it? Is it oxygen loss from being in their ivory tower too long, or is it too much time being in the Scrooge syndrome? Did they forget their roots? Empowerment means they can be less stressed and their subordinates grow. Is it not a win-win situation? All the Six Sigma and [Project Management Institute] training should have taught them something about people and extrinsic and intrinsic rewards. Funny how we tend to go through life saying we are human, yet we forget humanity.

We also forget about teaching and delegation, while seeing what is reaped from those methodologies, too. Micromanagement hinders productivity, hence employee motivation to work on a project.

Memo to BlueAngel8404’s senior managers from Mike:
Any individual in an organization can make a difference. But in general, the government agencies that I’ve seen excel have a leader who is willing to look in the mirror and lead by example. This leader would be willing to work on that one weakness that was preventing staff members from realizing their full potential.

So if your tendency is to micromanage, take a calculated risk instead and delegate some of the power and responsibility to others. If you’re indecisive, make decisions in a timely manner. If you talk too much, listen more. If you blame others for what’s wrong, be the change agent you want to see instead.
Old habits are difficult to break. Every manager can make a difference, and the more enlightened the manager is, the more enlightened the organization will be.

Ask yourself if you are stifling creativity. Are you so centered on your own goals and insecurities that you have lost the ability to work collegially with those around you?

Everyone in an organization deserves respect and is capable of leading by example. Effective managers should care about their employees. Progressive leaders don’t hide in their offices, expecting everyone to visit them while they sit on their thrones. Instead, they talk to their peers and employees to engage in meaningful discussions.

As managers, we need to nurture the next generation of capable leaders through our own enlightened behavior.

The 2014 Federal 100

Get to know the 100 women and men honored this year for going above and beyond in federal IT.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above