After a long and painstakingly detailed interview, you get the job. Congratulations, you have proven your expertise to your new employer and the value you can bring to the company.
In case you are in the creative industry, you have managed to convince your employer that you have an eye for creativity and can deliver the required outputs based on your best judgment. This is what you have been hired to do and you are working diligently, until you realise that the decisions you make, as well as the way you make them, are being put to scrutiny by those above you. It happens once and you tell yourself this is part of the learning process. Then you notice the same thing happening over several projects and enough times to make you question your own ability to do things right. But you have done great work in the past, so you don’t understand what you are doing wrong here, especially since there is nothing wrong with the results.
This kind of a situation usually occurs when you have a boss who likes taking matters into their own hands, with a scope on every step you take to get to those results. You will find them involved in projects, from inception to execution, dictating every step of the process with great attention to detail. That is when you know you are being micromanaged.
Eyes on the Trees, Not the Forest!
Micromanagement is a form of management that usually holds a negative connotation. According to Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, micromanagement is defined as “management, especially with excessive control or attention on details”. This kind of control and dictation, while sometimes effective in achieving short-term goals, can affect the organisational workflow in the long term. Micromanaged employees often end up frustrated, demoralized and demotivated. While a certain level of stress can always be expected at work, micromanagement elevates the normal stress levels with every action an employee undertakes. It is said that if mistakes are all you look for, mistakes are all you will find – and this is one of the reasons why micromanagement becomes a hassle for most employees. Instead of worrying about achieving deadlines or producing effective results, they have to second-guess every decision they make during the course of the day.
Micromanagement Gets Things Done
Leaders who practice micromanagement argue that they can foresee complications and hence ensure perfection by taking the wheel early on in the project, while preparing employees for future projects similar in nature. Indeed, people who micromanage are strong and trustworthy, but it is not a matter of whether micromanagement is good or bad – it is about the frequency with which it is practiced that causes the problem. In fact, there are times when employees may feel suffocated by an overbearing boss, but that doesn’t mean that it is always a question of micromanagement. If an employee is in a junior position, they may mistake mentorship for micromanagement.
Provide Direction, Not Dictation!
The role of a boss definitely includes providing direction to his subordinates and this sometimes entails getting into the nitty-gritty of problem-solving. That is fine and in fact productive too, but micromanagers often focus so much on the little problems that they end up losing sight of the bigger picture! The same goes for clients who take the liberty of involving themselves too much in creative work, where dictation then takes over and the experts are left following instructions every step of the way, regardless of whether some steps are essential or not.
Trust - The Magic Word
Productivity in the creative field requires engaged and informed people willing and eager to work to produce the best campaigns for their clients. Experts are hired to do their magic, but this process can be disrupted by the absence of a simple concept; one that many bosses often find hard to implement - trust. Micromanagement in the creative field fosters a work environment whereby creatives do not feel trusted and are unable to use their skills to their full potential. They don’t feel permitted to show real initiative and therefore become disengaged from their work. The objective shifts from making great work to pleasing the boss. The inability to control their own work processes or the lack of freedom to make important decisions leads to indifference, low morale and lack of active contributions.
Subjective Creatives, Subjective Decisions
One of the reasons why creatives find it especially hard to be micromanaged is because in true essence, creativity is subjective. There is no right or wrong– it is simply a matter of achieving the highest level of effectiveness. When C-Suite executives from both the client and agency side become involved in day-to-day projects, or even the initial sessions of a big project, they end up steering the project in the direction they want and although their experience and expertise may guide the project in the right direction, they have actually given up on believing in their employees’ ability to produce effective results in their own unique ways. This is why teams are formed – but the point is completely lost once micromanagement takes over.
Focus on the ‘What’, Not the ‘How’
A key indicators of micromanagement is that while leaders assume they are in control of the output, they end up controlling the entire process too. This is when employees act as soldiers following orders, doing everything as per the boss’s recommendation rather than engaging in discussions about how they really plan to go about it, assuming from experience that their leaders are not open to debate.
Ultimately, for a results-oriented person, it is the output that matters. While the process can be perfected over time, the achievement of bigger goals is what determines the worth of an organisation. While the bosses can set the direction of where the company needs to go, it is the employees who take it there.
Muhammad Ali Khan is Associate Director Creative & Strategy at Spectrum VMLY&R. He also teaches in the Masters of Advertising program at SZABIST-Karachi.