Monday, May 4, 2009

How can an employee deal with a micromanager?

Micromanagers don't want you to help them become better managers, but you have to do it anyway -- without their knowing it

Dear Bob ...

My boss is driving me nuts. She gives me assignments; then, at the first sign of a problem she jumps in, takes over, and fixes whatever it is. Then she tells me to take it from there, with an attitude that tells me she's annoyed at having had to jump in and that she expects me to be grateful for the help.

I don't want her help. If I did, I'd ask for it. I want her to let me do the job she assigned to me.

[ Find out what Bob has to say when the tables are turned: "When you've set the pattern with an employee, you've got to be tough to change it" | Get sage IT career advice from Bob Lewis' Advice Line newsletter. ]

Did I mention that "first sign of a problem" means "first sign I'm not doing the job the way she'd do it"?

I've tried to broach the subject with her, but she brushed me off without any sign she thinks there's any validity to my complaint, so I've given up.

What should I do? Live with the problem? Or do you have a better way for me to get her to stop micromanaging?

- Smothered

Dear Smothered ...

Before answering your question, let me first help you get inside your manager's head. Maybe it will help.

Most micromanagers I've met aren't driven by the need to control. They're perfectionists, and perfectionists feel tremendous stress when they see anything out of place. They have a strong sense of how the world should be, and when it isn't that way, they almost literally can't stand it -- they have to fix it. It's a compulsion.

My guess is that this is what you're dealing with. Start with empathy, not irritation, because Earth is a very difficult place for a perfectionist to inhabit.

Next: Here's why your manager isn't interested in your suggestions as to how she should manage better: From her perspective, you aren't even succeeding at your own job, which makes any suggestion you have for her presumptuous. You aren't who she looks to for advice on how to improve, and why would she?

(And to be fair: We're all experts in how everyone other than ourselves can do their jobs better. If you don't believe me, watch members of the chattering class on CNN and Fox News or read them on the editorial page. They all know better than any member of any administration exactly how they should fix what's wrong with the world. But I digress.)

So ... what do you do? I think the answer is this: The next time your manager jumps in, fixes something for you, and jumps out again, thank her for the help before you do anything else. If you acknowledge the value of her expertise and experience, you'll have a much better chance of redirecting it.

Which is what you do next. After thanking her, ask her to walk you through her thought process, explaining that the next time something similar occurs, you want to be in a position to handle it so she doesn't have to jump in.

One more possibility: From here on in, the moment anything comes up that gives you even a whiff of the possibility she'll be likely to jump in, get the jump on her instead. Knock on her door, explain the situation, and tell her you'd like to run by her how you plan to handle it to see if she thinks you're taking the right approach.

Not only micromanagers but all managers need to develop trust in their employees so that they know how much or how little supervision is needed to make sure work is handled properly.

Micromanagers just don't know how to develop it. So it's up to you to guide them through the process.

- Bob