Micromanagement and Microperformance

I constantly hear of workplace horror stories, where employees complain about being “watched” or policed.  Management tells them how they should dress, what time they should be at work, what sites they can visit, when and for how long they can take a break etc.

Positively Gestapo like.

From the manager’s perspective they think that they have no choice because policing is a necessary evil if any work is going to get done, or their professional image is to be upheld.


Policing and micromanagement creates a culture of mediocrity

Good if you and your company can survive on mediocre performance.  Not so good if your goal is to outperform the marketplace in a sustainably healthy and supportive work environment.

People simply do not perform anywhere near their best when they feel that they are being micromanaged.


Because they understand that they are not trusted.

Funny how that works.

If you don’t trust me, I’ll give you evidence why you shouldn’t, which makes you trust me less and down the rat hole of deteriorating relationships and inefficiency we go.

Either we come to a sustainable standoff, where you get some minimum acceptable level of performance from me, or you fire me.

But you will NEVER …  get my best.

Want to know what a team of motivated people giving their best looks like? Take a look at this video of the IBM team that built Watson.  I guarantee you that no one on this team feels micromanaged.

So what makes policing or micro-management un-necessary?


Make sure people have a sense of purpose.  Purpose gives meaning and a sense of direction.

Purpose is what has the aspiring writer keep the faith even after having publisher after publisher say no thanks (J.K.Rowling).

Purpose is what has a single mother show up at her child’s PTA meeting despite being worked to the bone at work and at home (you know one).

Purpose is what has a man survive 47 days in a raft in the open ocean, and then almost three years as a POW in the most brutal conditions imaginable (Louis Zamperini).

Purpose is what has the team at IBM succeed in having Watson win at Jeopardy.

Purpose need not be grand or noble, but it must be clear and motivating.  If William Wallace’s (Mel Gibson in Braveheart) story of freedom can rally his men to fight to the death against overwhelming military might, what does it say about your leadership skills that you can’t get your people to cold call, or keep the commitments they make in meetings?

Don’t feel bad it’s not easy, and that’s why they make movies like Braveheart.  But a place to start is provide a common purpose.

Make sure your team, colleagues and staff have a common purpose that drives them.  All else flows from this.


Giving people a sense of control over their lives will pay off in spades. Don’t sweat the small stuff about whether someone is at their desk at 8:01 unless it’s really mission critical to an outcome you care about.

Your real concern should be about managing the stories about purpose, goals and objectives, providing the tools they need to win and then getting the hell out of their way.

Giving your people space, giving them the feeling of being autonomous communicates trust, and people will work like hell to deserve that trust.


Micro-managing and policing are counterproductive because they communicate mistrust, and when people feel they are not trusted they tend to not be creative or give their all.

So give up policing and micro-management and focus on instilling purpose in your people and providing as much autonomy as you can to let them fulfill that purpose.

Having people whose lives and careers are driven by ambition also helps.

If your people are delivering on what matters most to your company’s profitability and sustainability, why do you care if they spend a couple hours a day on Facebook?  Especially when they may be doing work at home.

Any thoughts? Contributions/acknowledgments welcome.