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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

Being Micromanaged to Death?

Published June 19, 2010 10:34 AM by Glen McDaniel

I have been thinking about micromanagement lately; not how to micromanage, but how to deal with it. It seems that several friends and colleagues have had this visited on them recently and are driving themselves nuts with frustration about it.

I had a boss once who as an old nurse saw the world in terms of "nurses and others."  She was a Regional vice president overseeing 16 hospitals and only a handful of her reports, myself included, fell into the pariah class of "non nurse." She would lecture us on everything from patient care to health economics with phrases always beginning "as a nurse, I can tell you..."

It did not matter that some of us had advanced degrees in business and were qualified in other areas of healthcare outside of nursing. We would commiserate among ourselves and strategize about how to deal with her while maintaining our sanity.She was known to drive people to tears on a regular basis-in fact we thought she enjoyed it.

One thing we learned later on - as we compared notes-  is that she frustrated her nurse-reports equally because she berated them with "as a nurse you should know...." Or she would try to run each nursing department in each hospital with outdated nursing principles, not having practiced nursing herself for years. I finally figured out her issue was control and a penchant for micromanagement.

Whether in the lab or out, micromanagement drives people nuts and is counterproductive in that it causes more frustration and anger than results-as evidenced by colleagues' recent experience.

I learned some methods of coping with my old boss, who we dubbed Cruella, by the way. I will share those with you.

Don't take it personally.  This is very hard to do, but try to realize this person is usually just a Type A personality, a control freak; and her reactions are not necessarily reflective of your actions, and certainly not your worth or intrinsic value. It's easy to start internalizing all the "you shoulds." Don't.

Communicate. The experts will say have a serious talk with her. That is likely to make you look weak and whiny and leave you bloody and maimed. Instead, communicate often in reports, memos, voicemail and emails. To her, communication is action, and action is progress. So if she sees information and frequent progress reports that keeps her busy and she also assumes you are also active. When you have a discussion and receive a slew of assignments, do the quick fixes ASAP and tell her they are done. She will see you as someone who follows up rather than let projects sit.

Be proactive.  As uncomfortable as it might be, ask for meetings with her before she summons you. That not only puts the shoe on the other foot, but to her spells "action-oriented." When you speak with her tell her your progress, not your barriers. If barriers come up, have some solution to work past them. She likes to direct you, but not to feel she HAS to solve all your problems for you. In reporting challenges in your department, for example, lay out your thoughts for a solution. She might have a favorite, or hate all of yours, but at least she didn't "have to tell you what to do, once again."  The result might be the same, but she will perceive you as solution-oriented. Perception is reality.

Toot your own horn. This sounds counter intuitive and does not come easily for many, including the typical laboratorian. But to a micromanager it translates to confidence and someone who is more similar to her (after all she is perfect!). That is one interaction in which "I" carries a lot of weight.  Keep notes of your communication and projects you have handled well. You will need to retrieve those on short notice. You will have occasion to pull them out more than once to prove or reinforce a point. Trust me.

I would like to hear your own experience of micromanagement -what it was and how you handled it. I would also like to hear from managers who thought it important to keep a tight reign on their employees (micromanage) and why they felt they had to.

 

4 comments

As someone who has worked in the clinical lab environment (microbiology) for > 20 yrs, on the bench and as Supervisor, I will NEVER understand why someone in a Technical role will be automatically deemed appropriate for a "management" role simply because of his/her tenure in the position. Being in a management position requires a particular set of skills distinct from the technical aspects of the lab and many "managers", especially in larger labs, don't even do lab work on any regular basis.  Many micromanagers I've had the discomfort of working with are barely management material, come across as very insecure and don't even come close to being "leadership" material. For me, these 2 titles mean quite different things. Good managers, however, at least understand how to "manage" processes of their dept, interactions of their staff, they understand (or are willing to learn) how to discipline staff fairly and not "play" favorites; they understand that the rules are applied equally and fairly to all and not the way they interpret them, they follow up on their promises and if they forget what they promise they adopt a system for documenting conversations/discussions so employees know they can trust their manager to back them and follow through. he doesn't use one or more employees to "spy" on another - that creates animosity in his staff and "teamwork" that really doesn't work. He also uses his employees strengths and skill sets the best way possible:  to manage his lab economically and skillfully - to distribute his staffing appropriately to make best use of their talents & skills, reduce his overtime needs and maintain his employee's skills as updated and in keeping w/advances in the field for their specialty area as possible - which means, allowing them to attend educational seminars, not just him and/or his Direrector every year so that no employee ever has an opportunity to attend an ASM or ICAAC meeting for a change. He should also endeavor to encourage initiative on the part of his staff and give them credit for ideas implemented, and not forget to praise the employee(s) involved privately as well as publicly. I get so aggravated when I hear that we can't set up an incentive or reward system because it's not fair to others; well, if others want to receive an incentive, then they, too, can work on one, but apparently they're not motivated enough. So why punish those who do want to do something positive? You're "rewarding" the least common denominator, not those working at their best; and then wonder why you're once motivated group becomes burnt out and demotivated. Well, if someone keeps on bringing ideas to you or is creative with the computer and makes up charts that work more efficiently and quickly and all you seem to do is criticize him by saying "You weren't asked to do this", "Did you finish you regular work?" , We don't need this now", "You should have asked before working/wasting time on this..", what do you thinks going to happen when you need help and ask for a volunteer? Let's make Leadership training a pre-requisite or at least a "co-requite" to a promotion to management or you'll have a lot more Gen "X'er" leaving this field than coming in and they're less patient, more self-centered and more assertive than us baby boomers ever were

JoAnn, Microbiology June 23, 2010 7:33 PM
South central PA

As someone who has worked in the clinical lab environment (microbiology) for > 20 yrs, on the bench and as Supervisor, I will NEVER understand why someone in a Technical role will be automatically deemed appropriate for a "management" role simply because of his/her tenure in the position. Being in a management position requires a particular set of skills distinct from the technical aspects of the lab and many "managers", especially in larger labs, don't even do lab work on any regular basis.  Many micromanagers I've had the discomfort of working with are barely management material, come across as very insecure and don't even come close to being "leadership" material. For me, these 2 titles mean quite different things. Good managers, however, at least understand how to "manage" processes of their dept, interactions of their staff, they understand (or are willing to learn) how to discipline staff fairly and not "play" favorites; they understand that the rules are applied equally and fairly to all and not the way they interpret them, they follow up on their promises and if they forget what they promise they adopt a system for documenting conversations/discussions so employees know they can trust their manager to back them and follow through. he doesn't use one or more employees to "spy" on another - that creates animosity in his staff and "teamwork" that really doesn't work. He also uses his employees strengths and skill sets the best way possible:  to manage his lab economically and skillfully - to distribute his staffing appropriately to make best use of their talents & skills, reduce his overtime needs and maintain his employee's skills as updated and in keeping w/advances in the field for their specialty area as possible - which means, allowing them to attend educational seminars, not just him and/or his Direrector every year so that no employee ever has an opportunity to attend an ASM or ICAAC meeting for a change. He should also endeavor to encourage initiative on the part of his staff and give them credit for ideas implemented, and not forget to praise the employee(s) involved privately as well as publicly. I get so aggravated when I hear that we can't set up an incentive or reward system because it's not fair to others; well, if others want to receive an incentive, then they, too, can work on one, but apparently they're not motivated enough. So why punish those who do want to do something positive? You're "rewarding" the least common denominator, not those working at their best; and then wonder why you're once motivated group becomes burnt out and demotivated. Well, if someone keeps on bringing ideas to you or is creative with the computer and makes up charts that work more efficiently and quickly and all you seem to do is criticize him by saying "You weren't asked to do this", "Did you finish you regular work?" , We don't need this now", "You should have asked before working/wasting time on this..", what do you thinks going to happen when you need help and ask for a volunteer? Let's make Leadership training a pre-requisite or at least a "co-requite" to a promotion to management or you'll have a lot more Gen "X'er" leaving this field than coming in and they're less patient, more self-centered and more assertive than us baby boomers ever were

JoAnn, Microbiology June 23, 2010 7:31 PM
South central PA

I worked with a woman who was the head of the department at a blood collection center. Her particular style of micromanagement was to not speak with you except to tell you not to speak with others, only her, and any work was to be approved by her. I didn't really have a problem with the approval of work except that the approval never came about. The revised SOP's would sit on her desk and I learned the previous employee, who I took over that postition, had left notes with the dates she had turned in work -  some over a year old. I stayed on that job for almost a year, being told who I could and could not speak to, what I was supposed to say if I did speak, and no clear resolution. I surprised myself by staying that long at this h...hole. I can only say I'm an optimist and thought by trying to speak out against this type of workplace environment I could get things changed. I more than likely earned the reputation and title of being a troublesome employee. This was the first time I had ever encountered this type of individual and hope to never meet another in the future.  The good that came out of this whole affair is I started my own successful lab consulting business.

Linda June 22, 2010 8:34 PM

Hi Glen. I had a lab manager who used to come grab me in the middle of morning run and go over QC. She would nit pick and ask me a million questions and direct me on what to do. She would tell me everything wrong in the department for the last 3 days. Once I tried to ask her if we could talk about this later and she sent me home for a bad attitude. I would take all her suggestions only to have her add more and more rules next time. When we became computerized she would moniter my department from her office and release even results I was re-checking.

She didnt bother to check with us before she out results.

I developed ulcers and heart palipitations and I have no doubt it was from this awful micromanaging woman. I left that job after a spell of illness. I loved my fellow techs, but I couldnt take that woman.

I am much happier and healthier mow. Thank God.

Janice A. MLT June 20, 2010 2:28 PM
Morrow GA

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