Foundations - Micromangement - A different view
by Joe Bouchard
There are very few who would argue in favor of the merits of micro-managing. Unnecessary and relentless attention to detail frustrates competent staff, provides fodder for division, and allows a foothold for manipulative prisoners. It is a nearly universal sentiment that micro-managing is absolutely wrong in all instances. In fact, there is a time and place for this style of management in corrections. And understanding the different kinds of micromanagers helps us to cope with their methods.
We can define micro-management as the act of unnecessarily controlling minute details and procedures. It is when staff gain a feeling of power by assigning too much significance to what is rather insignificant.(1)
There are certain words in the English language that suggest a similar feeling in almost everyone. In fact, some terms can evoke frantic physical reactions. Consider the short but powerful word ‘lice’. Invariably, when this word enters a conversation, we cannot help to feel phantom sensations all over our skulls.
Micro-managing is not all that different from this concept. When we think of someone focusing unnecessary and relentless attention to details, the thought of parasites sucking the life out of you is not far from the surface. We can easily envision a being that we simply cannot get out of our hair. Everyone considers micro-managers as very difficult to dispose of. Their persistence makes a mockery of any form of prevention.
Ironically, though, micro-managers, those who excel on focusing on the minutiae, are ideal agents in activities such as lice control. The terminology had migrated from the insect entities to micro-management. Consider the phrases nit-picking and going through with a fine tooth comb. Their thorough tenacity makes micro-managers the ideal candidates for tedious tasks. Therefore, unlike a lice infestation, micromanaging is not entirely a bad thing.
There are times in correction that we need to employ a methodical microscopic analysis. Here are some examples of where a micro-manager is useful.
It is important to note that not all micro-managers operate with the same motivations. In fact, there are at least four different types. They are Hierarchical Micro-manager, Trained Micro-manager, Natural Micro-manager, and Reactive Micro-manager.
- During Audits – Typically, there is some trepidation and tension when ACA or Central Office is scheduled to conduct an audit in a facility. A special set of analytical eyes is helpful to meet the scrutiny from outside the facility.
- For investigations – Things are not always as they initially appear. Can an investigation be truly complete until all stones are overturned? Micro-managers excel at this.
- Trouble-shooting – Sometimes, our day-to-day facility problems seem intractably unsolved. However, the keen eye of a thorough employee can serve as a devil’s advocate. Micro-managers revel in looking at all angles of a problem.
- Editing a document – Many of us value content over presentation and grammar. Yet, when committees submit reports to higher authorities, all ‘T’s” must be crossed and all “I’s” must be dotted. Otherwise, the report may be regarded as ill-prepared. The content is taken less seriously without a thorough edit.
- Policy Audit – As times change, so do policies. And every year, key policies are audited. While the generalist may do an adequate job on this, the micro-manager is a good complement to the efforts of others.
There is an added layer to this. Each variety can be driven by one of three basic personality types:
- Hierarchical Micro-manager – Has to answer to chain of command which is inclined to focus on small details. Since, the supervisor is a micro-manager, the subordinate is also expected to act that way.
- Trained Micro-manager – The facility or agency has a cultural imperative for all to operate in this matter. An emphasis on the minutia is indoctrinated in each new manager through the local culture.
- Natural Micro-manager – The staff member brought micro-managing skills with them to job. The Natural Micro-manager is most comfortable while adhering to strict attention to minute details.
- Reactive Micro-manager – This person is not always in micro-management mode. In fact, this style is employed only when necessary. The Reactive Micro-manager tightens uses this style, for example, when an important investigation is happening in the facility.
As an example, a Natural Micro-manager with benevolent inclinations will seem to be more understanding that a Natural Micro-manager with malevolent intentions. The former uses compassion to further motivate staff to focus on details. The latter typically employs demoralizing tactics for the same goal.
- Benevolent – This is someone whose actions are driven by compassion and kindness. They may, for example nit pick because it comes naturally to them. But they do so with your best interests in mind.
- Malevolent - This is someone whose actions are driven by malice and meanness. They may, for example focus on the insignificant in reaction to their hierarchy’s culture. But they do so with the intent of frustrating others and causing harm.
- Utilitarian – Function is the prime directive with the Utilitarian. Their decisions are based on the usefulness to the operation of the institution. For them, it is never anything personal: It is just business.
By understanding the motivations and basic personality types of each micro-manager, staff are better able to work well with them. Here are some general tips to mitigate the ill effects of micromanagement. It is the responsibility of the reader to assess each situation carefully before applying a possible remedy.
Some concepts are instantly vilified. Rightly so, no one argues in favor of the common louse. However, most ideas have a positive side if we simply examine a bit more. Micro-managing, though frustrating to most people does have its place on occasion. And not all motivation are the same between micro-managers. Think how differently your facility would operate without some occasionally beneficial acts of warranted thoroughness.
- Tactfully ask colleague to assess your ability to make decisions;
- Point out that you are capable;
- Show the micro-manager that you have conceived several options to solve a problem. Present them and let her choose the best option. Be prepared to accept if colleague does not choose any of those options;
- Always be honest when assessing your supervisor. This can be done with anonymous 360 surveys, suggestion boxes, or when asked directly for opinion. Remember that honesty does not mean malice;
- Consider if there is there a cultural precedent. Is there a chain of micro-management? Can this culture be changed?
- Are your peers treated in the same way as you? Find out if this is an isolated incident;
- Look at yourself. Assess how others lead you. Does your lack of attention to details serve as a magnet for micro-management? (2)
Joe Bouchard is a librarian at Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility within the Michigan Department of Corrections. He is also a member of the Board of Experts for “The Corrections Professional” and an instructor of Corrections and Psychology for Gogebic Community College. He can be reached at (906) 353-7070 ext 1321. These are the opinions of Joe Bouchard, and not of the MIDOC or Corrections.com.
This article was reprinted with the permission of the Editor of The Correctional Trainer – the journal of the International Association of Correctional Training Personnel.
1 Bouchard, Joseph. "How Micromanaging affects operations in a facility." The Corrections Professional 11.7 (2005): 3.
Other articles by Joe Bouchard
Micromangement myths, 6/21/07
Custody awareness and corrections vitality, 5/20/07
We are who they say we are, 4/29/07
Coping with tragedy - lessons for corrections, 4/23/07
Building Empires: The rise and fall of cliques, 3/27/07
A horse sense of teamwork, 2/14/07