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Coping with micro-managers

#1 Coping with micro-managers
25/02/2009 13:08


Hi. I'm a competent mid-ranking consultant (please just take my word for that) and am being micro-managed by a Partner. I've worked with this guy a few times in the past and I think he has a personality disorder as sometimes he'll almost completely distance himself from the project and leave people to do things way beyond their level of responsibility (think middle-ranking associates going off and selling work on their own), yet other times he will make a MASSIVE deal out of the most truly inconsequential trivia (think spending a whole day getting people to waste their time tinkering around with a train booking, just to save £35 on a £110 ticket).

I've tried the usual tricks such as trying to get clear deliverables and timeframes agreed, but he refuses to 'let the lead out' when he ought to and this is really getting in the way of me doing the job. I sometimes feel like I spend more time trying to serve him as a sort of 'internal client', than I do actually getting on with the job. I'm being put in a very difficult position. For instance, he'll get me to spend hours and hours doing the most trivial things (such as spending a whole day organising a train ticket), and then I get the flak when we come in over budget.

What would you do?

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#2 RE: Coping with micro-managers
26/02/2009 14:01

Sharon to Micromanaged (#1)

If you haven't looked at MPH modelling you might want to.

Micro-managers need managing upwards as much as expect to manage downwards. I've found MPH invaluable with characters I work with who have a very different way of working to my prefered style.

Being a detailed person (like your boss) it will be extremely difficult for him to manage people who think details are just 'stuff' and ignore them.

Perhaps try a month of focusing on his detail and see if that stops the noise. It may not - but if it does you may well be able to get away with the odd slip back to normal behaviour (for you) without losing his trust that you are watching the pennies.

It may also be worth calculating the time you spend on 'trivia' (and please do not use that word with him, admin perhaps?) and put it into financial terms, i.e. your hrly rate and it's value to him.

If this is the only area that he micro-manages it may be worth the occasional effort on it as it looks like it is a high priority in his mind and the longer you ignore what he needs as a priority the more he may well focus on this area. As soon as he trusts you to do this automatically - you never know he may well start to assume that this is covered and it will no longer be a huge deal....

Goodluck. One man's trivia is another man's essential knowledge :o)

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#3 RE: Coping with micro-managers
26/02/2009 14:18

kl to Sharon (#2)

Mick, uh, sorry, sharon... is the worst website I have seen, it presentation/marketing terms, ever, ever.

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#4 RE: Coping with micro-managers
26/02/2009 15:00

Dan E to kl (#3)

Sorry, but I'm not sure why it would take all day to 'tinker' and save £35 on a train ticket. It should take minutes at most. Just do the prudent thing in the first place, book the cheapest available ticket, and get on with it. Maybe he just wants to make a point that you need to do things properly, start doing them right first time and he'll likely get off your back.

I had a manager like this when I first started out, and it was great for me. In a matter of weeks my standards improved massively, and once I got things right first time every time my manager trusted me more and got off my back.

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#5 RE: Coping with micro-managers
26/02/2009 15:36

Micromanaged to Dan E (#4)

Dan E, I find it difficult to believe that it is possible to spend all day booking a train ticket. However, this guy makes it possible. For info, I am not just "starting out" - I am 35yrs old and have been a consultant for 12 years.

Think along the lines of the following things at his request (and under no circumstances, I am told, can I get a secretary or someone else to do it as they always get it wrong and this is an important meeting):

1. Book ticket

2. Change time

3. Add colleague

4. Try to reserve seats

5. Change time again

6. Change time again

7. Change date

8. Change location

9. Change time (to get discount)

10. Cancel

11. Re-book

12. Move time

13. Call various train operators to find discount tickets

14. Change name trivially spelt wrong on booking

15. Conduct a 'survey' amongst team for most suitable departure station

16. Add 2 more colleagues

17. Cancel and re-book tickets to ensure that seat reservations are all next to each other

18. And so on.....

You would have to experience it to truly believe it. And this is coming from a man who earns £300K+.

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#6 RE: Coping with micro-managers
27/02/2009 01:46

anon to Micromanaged (#1)

It sounds like the guy's just not very good at his job. Regardless of seniority, partnership or salary, the pattern is the same. Periods of complete hands-off whilst events overtake him, followed by a panic of micro-management in non-critical areas to show activity.

You describe trying to serve the guy as an "internal client" and that is effectively what you need to do - treat him as a client from hell, in the short term at least. Pitch him serves that suit his strengths - enough to keep him busy; if he has a background in tax accounting for manure wholesalers, find him some sh*t to roll in. The rest of his job, you do yourself, but pass to him for "review" and to take the credit for.

Longer term, give him some honest feedback after the project if you can (i.e. if you have the confidence and diplomacy). You're not going to "fix" him, you're not going to instill 20 years' of missing consulting experience and ability if he hasn't got it by now, and you're unlikely to have much sway over his tenure. However, you may make him more aware that his current approach isn't working and give him some direction as to what he should be doing (getting out of the way). Worst case, he won't "get it" and you both do everything possible to make sure you don't work with each other again. That sounds like a win-win to me.

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#7 RE: Coping with micro-managers
27/02/2009 12:20

Chris Donegan to Micromanaged (#5)

Your example sounds very much like an individual who has poor organisational skills. However that's not much help for you as his lack of organisation is affecting you and costing the company. Does he realise the cost of the run around to save a couple ofquid on a train ticket.

Maybe you should start billing him for your time or have discussion on the impact of his behaviour .

Another issue you mention isthaqt he spends a long period of time away form projects and then comes back in.

It could be a sign of anxiety as he feels he is loosing control so maybe you need to actualy keep in touch with him more not less to ensure he uderstand thngs are running okay when he is not around.

Good luck as I suspect he thinks it is you!!


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#8 RE: Coping with micro-managers
27/02/2009 17:34

Deacs to Chris Donegan (#7)


I am impressed at the response you received from "Dan E" - I am no Freudian but that is an archetypal response in terms of a willful misinterpretation of your post as having been written by an incompetent. From experience within my last 2 companies, this is proof that quite a few consultants still post here!

Re your Partner, there is clearly a wide gap between the way the 2 of you work together. I would suggest starting from a point where you recognise that what he does works for him and what you (want to) do works for you.

From there, you have several choices, including changing your behaviour around him markedly or doing so quite subtly.

For example, you might send him an email with a cost estimate every time he asks you to do something and clearly point out what will not be done as a result. If he comes back and directs you to do both / all activities, you have successfully got him engaged in the process. A response along the lines that time will not allow this but you will change the project plan etc highlights that you will not be bullied.

In a similar situation in the past, I have ensured that all my emails (and his if he replies) are kept in the same thread, so it's easy to point out what has been agreed. This is also an easy way to keep a record of discussions - sometimes useful if disciplinary action is ever mooted.

A less extreme option might be to ignore his phone calls or only speak to him at certain times of day or respond to his voicemails via email requesting an email in return, as you are out of area, have a low battery etc.

For me, the important thing is to alter YOUR behaviour and change the dynamic. Of course these can be "games" but you are currently playing by his rules. Either play by your own or flag up to him that you won't be bullied into playing by his.

Good luck

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#9 RE: Coping with micro-managers
02/03/2009 11:38

Mars A Day to Micromanaged (#1)

OP if you have been a consultant for 12 years, why are you still only mid-ranking?! Sorry to be the one to point out the elephant in the room, but he is a PARTNER, you are 'mid-ranking' after 12 years experience - so perhaps you need to look at what he does and identify the behaviours which have made him successful? I know it's frustrating but in my experience of micromanagers there is usually a method (and result) in the madness.

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#10 RE: Coping with micro-managers
02/03/2009 12:05

Micromanaged to Mars A Day (#9)

Hi Mars. Firstly, Partners aren't gods. They have high incomes, but this doesn't necessarily mean they are some kind of superior species. This particular guy, for instance, became a partner because he worked for a small company and maintained his relative position during a series of acquisitions. His department has shrunk from a headcount of 40 to 10 during his 5 year tenure. Often, it's about politics rather than competence. He is running an under-performing unit, but by the time this catches up on him and the other partners pluck up the courage to give him the boot, he'll be long retired and sipping martinis on the cote d'azur whilst the rest of us are fretting out in front of

As for myself, well yes I have 12 years experience, but nobody in their right mind would consider a 33 year old 'senior' would they? I'm a good, competent consultant but work for a small company and the promotions aren't 'automatic'. It's a very slow moving company that isn't growing and promotions are basically non-existent. The money is terrible. I only stay because I like what I do and I'm good at it. In any other company, I guess I would be a partner by now! But not at this one.

Having said that... I know you're a headhunter so I'll take your steer on this one. Do you think I could do better? What sort of things should I be thinking about right now?

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#11 RE: Coping with micro-managers
02/03/2009 12:50

Mars A Day to Micromanaged (#10)

Micromanaged I am not saying partners are gods, a superior species, or even a separate species for that matter. But how does an individual like that make it to partner? He evaluates his situation constantly, to ensure he is getting max value for himself, and this is what you should be doing: if you are not moving forwards you are going backwards.

So you have the answer really - you wrote it yourself: 'He is running an under-performing unit, but by the time this catches up on him and the other partners pluck up the courage to give him the boot, he'll be long retired and sipping martinis on the cote d'azur whilst the rest of us are fretting out in front of'. And to get himself there he will sacrifice your career. Will he care that you find yourself trying to sell your way out of low delivery, lack of sales experience, flatlining progression, in a failed practice, at interview while he sips on his martini? No.

You are not evaluating your situation and seem to have fallen into inertia: my steer would be to look for a new job before the practice falls apart, and your career with it. My instinct is that this place you work at has drained the self esteem from you - why else would an intelligent, committed professional with 12 years experience tolerate this denigration?

I quote you again: 'It's a very slow moving company that isn't growing and promotions are basically non-existent. The money is terrible. I only stay because I like what I do and I'm good at it. In any other company, I guess I would be a partner by now! But not at this one.'

People who like what they do tend to be good at it, and vice versa. If you can be good at it where you are, you'll be good at it someplace else. The money is terrible - no incentive there then. In another company you GUESS you would be a partner - not the ambition and sel belief that will get you there, but it's a start; think in another company you would have every opportunity to make partner, and could develop yourself to be partner material.

I don't think you can fix this situation: not least you need to fix yourself, get some pride back in what you can achieve, your experience, and your contribution. Get yourself into another company where you can apply the lessons you have learned here - at least when the time comes (and convince yourself if will if you commit to it and work hard enough with clearly defined goals and an end game in sight) you won't micromanage people.

And you'll get a secretary to book the bloody tickets.

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#12 RE: Coping with micro-managers
02/03/2009 12:52

The Little Professor to Mars A Day (#9)

Mars - this is surprisingly naive for you. You should know as well as anyone that partnership has little or no correlation to performance or capability but has a strong correlation to time-served.

Micro-management in particular is not effective or appropriate to a principles-based environment (i.e. any "profession"). There is also strong evidence that it is not an effective management style for many semi-professional industries.

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#13 RE: Coping with micro-managers
02/03/2009 13:03

Mars A Day to The Little Professor (#12)

Little Professor it is naive of you to believe that partnership - or any role of seniority - comes with time served. If that were true every MC firm would be incredibly top heavy. And you didn't read my post properly - I have not advocated micromanagement as being positive or productive.

I'll clarify what I said to micromanaged. Getting to partner is about an individual understanding what is in it for them as an individual: it's rare for someone to join firm A, and retire as a partner at firm A without going elsewhere - after about 3 - 5 years in any given firm you become commoditised, are no longer in the ascendency. High performers give ana average of 4 years and move before becoming entrenched. This slows down at senior levels, but a partner at firm A would have most likely moved across from firm B at a business creating level, joining just on the cusp of partnership before being made up. This is about understanding the politics, market forces, personal branding, maket value of your experience etc, even getting the right brands on your CV, or pursuing the right niche and having some luck in the process also.

If you think people make partner by joining as grads and selling their souls to a company for their careers to make partner, you are living in the 1950s.

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#14 RE: Coping with micro-managers
02/03/2009 15:16

Village Idiot to Mars A Day (#13)

What Mars said is spot-on. Making partner is no walk in the park, and there are plenty of people competing for a very limited number of spots. Ask any Senior Manager or Director how easy it is to make partner -- regardless of how long they have been in the firm.

I can only speak for the firms where I have worked, but in both cases the people who made partner sold their souls to the devil. They worked exceptionally long hours and sacrificed their home lives. They were rain-makers and brought in considerable amounts of new business, again and again, before they were considered for the partnership. And they went through a vigorous vetting process to ensure that they were not entirely one-dimensional sales machines (although this will always remain the primary focus of a partner) -- but leadership and management skills are important, too.

In my experience, it is rare for a poor performer to make partner -- those partners who are often most difficult to work with are 1) new partners (who are still learning the ropes of partnership and trying to define their new roles) or 2) old partners who have become accustomed to partnership and are getting lazy / not pulling their weight.

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