Why ‘micromanagement’ as a managerial trait is hard to do away with

It was assumed that remote working will rein in the tendency to micromanage employees

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Micromanagement of employees has often been frowned upon. Timed breaks, strict lunch hours and scheduled targets — keeping a tab on the staff all the time that they are in the office does not bode well.

Now that we live in a world where a sizeable part of the workforce is operating from home, has there been any change.

In March 2020, a leaked e-mail from the Wall Street Journal revealed how a manager wanted remote workers to inform about every break they were taking, including scheduled meetings. Basically, the employees were supposed to keep their manager informed of every minute that they were not available. So, has the pandemic made matters worse?

It’s true that initial days of lockdown wasn’t easy either for the manager or the teammate, but eventually both learnt to trust each other.

“If the project is mission critical, micromanagement increases. The level of management also differs with the confidence a manager has in his team member. If the team member is competent, he may need less instructions and guidance — he is largely autonomous. If, on the other hand, a team member needs help, the management needs to focus more on him, giving him more time.”

Lalit Kar, senior VP & head – HR, Reliance Digital

“It is a fact that after companies were forced to move from physical to virtual all of a sudden last year, there was a plethora of meetings initially, where managers sought visibility of everything. They wanted to ensure that the team members were engaged and focused. However, with ‘work from home’ having become a way of life, focus has moved to output and deadlines. The frequency of meetings is on the wane,” says, Lalit Kar, senior VP & head – HR, Reliance Digital.

Agrees, Prasad Kulkarni, senior vice president – HR Business Excellence, The Citco Group. “There is a rise in trust and regular communication now. Due to remote working, there are multiple channels of communication. Whether it’s over a call, or an internal chatting software or e-mails, everybody is communicating. There is also a rise in structured meetings or reviews on a weekly or monthly basis, since we aren’t all at one place. So, automatically, good insights are being provided to the managers,” he says.

Irfan Shaikh, head – HR, Gits Food Products, believes the pandemic has definitely put a check on micromanagers simply because it is not possible to micromanage now.

“In a way, it is good as it allows employees to take responsibility of their work. It pushes them to be productive and give quality output. It also helps managers identify good resources from amongst the team members. Now, it’s a game between quality output and quantity of time spent,” Sheikh summarises.

“There is a rise in trust and regular communication now. Due to remote working, there are multiple channels of communication. Whether it’s over a call, or an internal chatting software or e-mails, everybody is communicating. There is also a rise in structured meetings or reviews on a weekly or monthly basis, since we aren’t all at one place. So, automatically, good insights are being provided to the managers.”

Prasad Kulkarni, senior vice president – HR Business Excellence, The Citco Group

However, Kar does point out that micromanagers who cannot help being themselves, will keep following up on the virtual medium as well.

Not to be blamed, managers have, after all, been used to receiving daily reports in person. It is this daily reporting which put them in a better position to understand how the employees performed.

As it has been portrayed time and again, micromanagement is not all that negative. It would be wrong to assume that micromanagement is an completely irrational way of working with the employees. Sometimes, certain workers need supervision, be it in the office or in the virtual medium.

Kar points out that it depends on the situation. “If the project is mission critical, micromanagement increases. The level of management also differs with the confidence a manager has in his team member. If the team member is competent, he may need less instructions and guidance — he is largely autonomous. If, on the other hand, a team member needs help, the management needs to focus more on him, giving him more time,” he elaborates.

Micromanagement is a managerial style. To an extent, it is accentuated by the organisational culture. Similarly, empathy has been the buzzword in the last one year. Organisations stress upon the same for having a harmonious work culture even when everyone is logging in from home. Empathy or trust can only work if there’s transparency. That has been significantly achieved in the last couple of months for a few reasons.

“It is the leader who has to instil trust in his team/employees to be able to ensure that they exceed expectations. Work from home has always existed in the West. However, with the pandemic it has now become the obvious need of the hour, worldwide. Despite WFH, many companies have booked substantial profits precisely in the core work-from-home scenario.”

Irfan Shaikh, head – HR, Gits Food Products

The pandemic has put everyone in the same situation, making them go through similar issues. Therefore, now managers too are putting themselves in others’ shoes, believes Kulkarni.

“If an organisation is promoting a culture, where teams are monitored closely and hourly reports are sought, then it could be a challenge. But most organisations are now supporting open work environments. Hence, micromanagement should have gone down considerably,” informs Kulkarni.

However, can micromanagement raise the productivity bar of an employee?

“It is the leader who has to instil trust in his team/employees to be able to ensure that they exceed expectations. Work from home has always existed in the West. However, with the pandemic it has now become the obvious need of the hour, worldwide. Despite WFH, many companies have booked substantial profits precisely in the core work-from-home scenario,” reasons Sheikh.

Sheikh strongly believes that employers are required to encourage employees by way of introducing incentives and new benefits that can reassure them that the employer is being fully supportive of them. Motivated employees do not require micromanagement. They only require appreciation and recognition for the tasks done well and on time.

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