Home > Leadership > Looking over the shoulder

Looking over the shoulder

(Characters described in this article are not real – there would be people like them in the real world but the descriptors used here are not associated with any person I know bearing that name.)

James is irritated. He is out in the market, making a planned visit. No! That is not the cause of his irritation. It is the fifth client call he is making in the day and his Business Head, Manoj, has been tagging along with him all day. Now, that is the reason for his annoyance.

Manoj was supportive and a good Supervisor Officer in many ways, but for one major flaw.  He micro – managed! He had to verify and cross-check everything. The only relief for the team – members was that they were seven in number and it took a while before it was any one person’s turn again. “Torture” was the codename used by James and his colleagues for this day of joint-visits.

James and his friends were experienced hands and at most times they were on top of the job – Manoj supported their efforts by providing the necessary inputs, be it budgets or getting the support needed from their Head Office. James and his colleagues did not mind Manoj involvement in the planning and review processes. They also knew that Manoj could contribute in major deals and in meetings with Senior Officials and were happy to taking him along on such occasions. It was only when Manoj took an active role in every little activity that it became an irritation.

These are a few of the ways managers like Manoj can disrupt their team’s peace-of-mind:

  1. He would visit a customer and ask questions to cross-check the information shared by the team-member during the review conducted back at the office, every tiny detail. This would be repeated all day.
  2. He had to spend the day at the venue where a Sales Executive was conducting a promotional activity– not just to witness the proceedings but to get involved in the nity-gritties.
  3. He would ask a team – member to provide the list of calls planned for the day and then ask whom they proposed to meet and what was to be discussed during the visit.

How many coffee breaks did you take today? How much time was spent to reach the customer’s office? You get the picture.

Why do Managers micro-manage?

The main reason for this is lack of trust. Many managers are not comfortable leaving the task to a junior officer because they think the person is not capable of doing the job. These managers believe that only they have the experience and skill to do it competently.  They worry that things can go wrong when they are not involved.

They are also afraid of losing control; what if the team-members start doing things on their own and don’t come to him for support? Won’t he then become redundant? And what if the team-member messes it up and he is not able to find out?

Some managers wish to stay in the familiar territory they used to be in – which is Operations. Their micro-management is a ploy to stay in touch with what they enjoyed previously. It would be best for such managers to add a component of field work to their daily routine and that should be done alone instead of disturbing a junior official.

Well, managers definitely need to know what their team-members are doing:

–          they need to make field visits with each member of the team,

–          visit the venue where promotional activities are being conducted,

–          even check who they are visiting and what questions are being asked.

But, should that be done for every call and every activity? Won’t that demoralize his team?

Manoj would have very experienced and committed team-members who need not be guided every step of the way – and by close-managing he not only loses respect, but causes them a lot of agony. If there is a low- performer or new recruit some hand-holding and close monitoring would be acceptable – but if he is smart even that task could be delegated to a senior hand in his team.

One can understand James’ agony. Looking over a team-member’s shoulder too often can only make the person nervous and irritated.

Managers like Manoj need to learn to trust people and relax some more. They need to let go and permit the team to do things their way – if things go out of control they can cut in anytime and get the situation back on track. A bit of Coaching would be useful to get them rid of this habit.

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  1. July 27, 2012 at 1:01 am

    Now that you talk of it Jayadev, I know the kind of pain it can be being looked over your shoulder. I hope he doesn’t read this but my own senior is an incorrigible micro-manager. My emotions vary. If it makes me feel redundant at times, at others I slip into a murderous mood. Unfortunately, there will be the hell to pay if I were to act on my ideas. 😀

    • JayadevM
      July 27, 2012 at 3:47 am

      Commiserations, Umashankar.

      It can be bad and one goes to work everyday with a sense of dread.

      I guess one way to handle it is to stop thinking (put on an act) and to ask the Manager to do all the planning and take all the decisions related to your work. Get him to approve everything you do – just inundate him with your work. Even get everything approved in writing by him so that later he can blame you for a decision taken by him. Maybe, he will realise.

      The other way would be to have a long chat – get him to share his concerns and you lay your cards on the table too.

      May you not murder anyone (even in your thoughts). :)))

      • July 28, 2012 at 2:59 am

        I stand convinced by the possible remedies suggested by you although I suspect he is too smart for the first one and too slimy for the latter! Yet, in the name of father, son, and the Holy Spirit, I may try one of these or both soon! Thank you, my friend!

      • JayadevM
        July 30, 2012 at 7:56 pm

        Best wishes! 🙂

  2. July 27, 2012 at 4:23 am

    A 360* view would be necessary to address this problem. Lets also take into account are majority of the audience are themselves Line managers and could be viewed upon by their team in a similar way. Apart from character and behaviour, few other measures would be helpful.

    a) Standard Work Practices (Process Oriented) with Approvals
    b) Job Descriptions and Aligned Appraisal Systems
    c) Team Building exercises
    d) Professional & Adequate Staffing for the Team
    e) Clear and measurable targets aligned to appraisals.
    f) More personal space

    If you look at Europeans , such issues would be less. There is a right mix of professionalism there

    • JayadevM
      July 27, 2012 at 5:06 am

      Wow, Ragesh!

      You have given a framework for Corrective Action too.

      Let us not damn all Indian Managers, but I agree that Managers abroad are more evolved thanks to many more years of Industrialisation and organisational activity in their countries; culturally too they are different.

      I think organisations in India are not investing enough time to Train and Coach their Managers and Supervisors – most just learn along the way and apply what they think is right. Organisations pay for this in many ways – higher employee turnover, employee dissatisfaction, customer dissatisfaction and lower revenues.

      Thank you for sharing those thoughts and look forward to ore from you.

  3. July 27, 2012 at 5:46 am

    Very well said Jayadev. This applies in so many places. That also applies when we have the Senior and Junior level manager positions…Each manager has his own way of getting things done…If the senior manager starts instructing the junior manager on how he should go about managing his subordinates then the work would not get done in either of their ways and would end up being half done…In IT companies sometimes managers have the habit of coming and standing behind his staff staring at their monitors while they are busy working…This really gets on the nerves of most employees…:)

    • JayadevM
      July 27, 2012 at 6:00 am

      Hi Jayashree

      You said it.

      Probably a Junior Manager is copying the style promoted by his senior – he thinks that is the way its done. This is how traditions are formed. There is no analysis or reasoning – just follow what was done previously or by someone else.

      And having someone standing behind can be so disconcerting unless they are doing some work together or the Manager is waiting to see some specific activity completed and has told his team member he would like to see that done in order to confirm to someone.

      If a manager just stands there without saying anything the team-member can get spooked and may lose concentration.

  4. July 27, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Jay it was very relevant to me…i have seen a lot of these micro managers who butt into your work…watch you from corners when you are working…double check what you have done all because they don’t trust neither their staff nor themselves…there was one particular guy who even turned up one night at our ladies locker room just to find out what we were upto in our free time…here there is no manager staff relations like we have in western countries…one can see the differences when a foriegn national gets posted in India…they do everything from making tea to lifting bags whereas their Indian counterparts go about with a halo around their head which says…”Manager” or should i say Damager”…

    • JayadevM
      July 30, 2012 at 8:02 pm

      That’s right, Kathy.

      Some Managers are remembered for all the wrong reasons – and they don’t know it. Like you said, the damage they can do to a junior’s morale and confidence is huge.

      Managing the manager is an art that subordinates would do well to learn early on in their career.

  5. G.Venu Gopal
    July 27, 2012 at 11:24 am

    the coffee breaks reminds me of the Indian coffee house !

    • JayadevM
      July 30, 2012 at 7:55 pm

      Venu,

      Ha! Ha! Ha! Don’t they?

  6. July 30, 2012 at 8:44 am

    True – nothing worse than a micro-manager.
    The subordinate does not grow, which is more important in the long-run than just accomplishing a task or tasks.

    • JayadevM
      July 30, 2012 at 4:49 pm

      Hi Shoba

      Good to see you back after the break.

      That’s right … a Manager who thinks long-term would realise that.

      Cheers!

  7. Jamy
    July 31, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    Jay, a good manager should be confident of his/her abilities and able to share and impart their knowledge to their juniors, set realistic targets and monitor the progress periodically- definitely not micromanage; it’s the same effect as when you are reading a newspaper and someone is looking over your shoulder-irritating and annoying. As for the manager who does this all the time, he is definitely insecure and scared of his juniors and peers taking their professionalism and job prowess to the next level- wake-up call??? for sure! Thanks Jay for another brilliant read!

    • JayadevM
      July 31, 2012 at 5:53 pm

      You said it.

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