#56 Once More With Micromanagement

by Steven Cerri on April 28, 2008

A direct report wants to manage her manager

Hello everyone!

Today I was conducting some business. The young woman who was assisting me was very competent with her company’s products, services, and she was great with customers, me. It was clear she was not in a “selling mode”. Her interest was in providing me with service and products that suited my needs.

During our conversation she asked me what I did for a living. I told her that I trained and coached engineers and technical managers to be more successful. I told her I trained in the soft skills, the interpersonal people skills, so that engineers could become managers and leaders and so that managers and leaders could be more successful leading their engineers.

I then told her that I had just completed a 15-CD set on transitioning from engineer to leader and a 3-CD set on the topic of micromanagement, and I was about to send my first book to my editor.

When I mentioned the word, “micromanagement” her eyes lit up. I said, “Oh, do you have micromanagement here?” Her response was “Oh yah!”

I asked her my famous question… those of you who have been following my blogs know this is THE question to ask. I asked her, “How do you know when you are being micromanaged?” I also asked her what she thinks her manager’s reason is for calling her three times a day.

She said, “I am 200% over my sales and revenue numbers. I’m the number one person here. And yet my boss calls me three times a day to get a status of my accounts even though he will see all the information I’m giving him in a daily report that he has available at the end of the day….. I send it to him at the close of business and he can see it …. actually at 3am.

“And he says the reason he calls me is to see if I need any help hitting my numbers.” (This is, in my opinion, an appropriate reason… three times a day, however, may be just a little much.)

So this is really micromanagement, isn’t it? Here is a top performer who it doesn’t seem will falter any time soon. She is doing very well and can be expected to continue. And yet, her boss is calling her three times a day to find out how she is doing. She feels micromanaged.

So, what to do? This is a perfect example of a situation in which an employee ought to be able to manage the manager. How would an employee in this situation actually manage her manager so that he would back off this intense management scrutiny?

Here’s how.

First, we have to determine his motivation. We could assume that her manager is a jerk or a control freak. But I seldom think that people are that simple. I think people are usually attempting to achieve something positive from their point of view with the behavior they are displaying. So my first assumption is that he has a legitimate motivation and we must determine what that is.

So I suggested that she ask him his motivation. She could say something like… “Bob (not his name), I’ve been doing really well here. I’m number one in sales and revenue and I’m 200% over my target. And I know you want to get my status three times a day, which is probably time consuming for you as it is for me. I know you get my report for the day when you’d rather be sleeping, so I imagine you don’t see my reports until the next day at the opening of business. Help me understand what you’d like to know when, so that I might be able to provide it to you in a more streamlined fashion, rather than you and I talking three times a day.”

If I understood what this woman was telling me, I think he’s probably suffering through something like this (just a guess of course):

1. Getting her daily sales and revenue results at 3am the following morning means he doesn’t really see the numbers until the opening of business the day after.

2. That is probably too late for him to prepare his status report to his boss.

3. Instead, he is probably calling three times a day, so that at the end of that day, he will be able to put together a draft status report for his boss and prepare himself for that meeting.

4. Or his boss actually wants a status at the close of the business day even though the hard numbers won’t be available until the next morning.

5. Or someone is asking him for a status during the day and he needs to contact her by phone to get a status.

In order to keep from being micromanaged, she must find out what is the motivation behind these three call a day from her manager. When she determines his motivation, all she need do is provide him with the information he wants in a way that is agreeable to him AND agreeable to her.

For example she might negotiate with him the following possibilities:

1. She could call him at the end of the day with her numbers. As long as she is hitting her daily numbers she need only call him at the end of the day. At 1pm, if she is having a difficult day meeting her numbers, then she can call him at 1pm and give him a status. Then she can call him again at 4pm or 5pm, but as long as she is hitting her numbers, the agreement is, one phone call at the end of the day.

2. Another possibility is she can send an email to him at 10am, 2pm, and 5pm. They can settle on a format that is concise and provides the detail he is looking for. If she is not hitting her numbers the email is replaced with a phone call initiated by her. The only time he would call her is if there is something urgent and critical that he must discuss with her.

With this approach, she can begin the process of managing her manager. Her goal is to find a way to provide the information he needs, when he needs it, “for the reasons he needs it.” The negotiation process is to provide him with the information in a way that helps her not feel micromanaged.

This approach has worked over and over and over again. In fact, I have another example. I spoke to a direct report who was having difficulty with his manager. After using this approach the whole manager-direct report relationship changed from micromanagement and conflict to team work and trust. But only one blog at a time. I’ll talk about this case in the future.

Be well,

Steven Cerri

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