Buzz of the Week: The cost of micromanagement

The surest way to kill the morale of a team is to micromanage it. According to some readers, many federal managers have quite a talent for it.

The topic came up last week when we posted an open-ended query on the “FCW Insider” blog: What could your agency or manager do to make you happier on the job? One reader — the first to post a comment, in fact — brought up the problem of micromanagement, and a dozen others followed suit.

That first reader, Jackie, who works in the Defense Department, made a compelling case for the long-term damage done by micromanagers. The first casualty is innovation, because employees no longer feel comfortable thinking for themselves and pitching new ideas.

“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,” Jackie wrote. Eventually, the best employees end up leaving, making life miserable for the remaining team members.

One reader speculates that bad management is so pervasive because it is passed from generation to generation of DOD leaders. In some cases, DOD managers rise through the ranks by learning to work in a dysfunctional environment, Vance suggests.

“They know how to manage up, but they have been mismanaged throughout their careers and use that training as guidance to mismanage once they obtain their high status,” Vance writes.

That supposition gains credence from a commenter named Ken, who sounds stuck in a classic middle management job. “Even as line management, I am not authorized to approve anything except time cards.”
Is micromanagement that pervasive in the federal government? What other problems would you like to see your agency or manager address?

Share your thoughts by posting a comment on the FCW Insider blog. Or you can e-mail your thoughts to (subject line: Workforce) and we will post it for you.

Comments should range in length from 75 to 175 words and be clear, constructive and specific. We will publish a selection of the comments we receive, along with commentary by management experts, in an upcoming issue.

Please let us know whether we can use your name or whether you would prefer to remain anonymous.


10 examples of work as a laughing matter

After receiving a steady stream of entries for the FCW Caption Contest during the last two weeks, we can safely say this: Federal employees are always good for a laugh.

FCW cartoonist John Klossner, who provided the original drawing sans dialogue or punchline, picked his favorite entry (shown below), submitted by “nonobaddog.” He also highlighted nine other strong contenders, listed in no particular order. Thanks to everyone who participated.

The runners-up:
“Engineering says the rest of the boat won’t be ready until FY10.”    — Robert Ferrell

“Who’s in charge of yelling ‘Oars up!’ when the boss walks in?”     — crafty

 “The vendor did such a good job at installation…you can’t see the chains” — thebestvendor

“Aren’t ya glad you’re not a GS-9 anymore?”— mycroftxxx

“Everyone…ramming speed!”    — fjc33

“So…when will Halliburton deliver the water?”    — Barry

“Give them a challenge. Take away the paddles on the left side!!”    — Zap1660

“I see now why the office softball team isn’t doing so well this season.”     — KSt

“It’s cloudy and the winds are calm. So we’ve switched over to our backup power generator.”      — mbonino


FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


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    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

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