Is your boss a micro-manager?

Some people are naturally detail-oriented. Some get nervous when they don’t feel fully on top of things. Others just like to tell people what to do. There are lots of reasons a person can become a micro-manager.

So how can you cope with a boss who provides so much guidance and support that your productivity suffers? Here are some ideas.

Micro-managers need to know what’s going on, so provide plenty of information, even to the point where you think it’s overkill. Find out the sort of information your boss most needs in order to feel comfortable (action plans, analyses, examples, facts, figures, summaries …) and provide it.

Agree priorities so that, should your boss concentrate on trivia and unimportant details, you can keep your attention on vital, value-adding work. When you need to, explain that you plan to attend to the other work as soon as you’ve completed the high-priority work you’ve agreed.

Meet your deadlines. Keep your boss well informed as you reach each milestone on the way and what your next step is. Make sure that next step is one you can complete before your next update, so that your boss can see clear progress.

Of course, there are two good reasons a person becomes a micro-manager:

  1. the employee is new to a task and on a steep learning curve
  2. the employee is under-performing.

Ask yourself whether either applies to you and whether you’re the only one being micro-managed. When that isn’t the case, do everything you can to help your boss relax and feel confident that you’re both on the same page.




Even bees burn out

Anthropomorphising means giving a nonhuman being, particularly an animal, a supposedly human attribute. Anthropomorphising isn’t supposed to be sensible or logical, but ironically, science keeps coming up with examples that substantiate it.

Take, for instance, the humble honey bee. On a recent trip to Kangaroo Island (beautiful, by they way), I learned that the only colony of pure Ligurian honey bees in the world is in KI. They were originally from Liguria in the Alps, but a parasite killed them there and everywhere else they’d been moved to.

It seems that worldwide, other types of bees are dying out too, endangering food production because bees pollinate so many of our food crops. The phenomenon is known as colony collapse disorder (CDD) and KI is a bee sanctuary (no other types of bees are allowed on the island) and pivotal in fighting extinction of bee colonies and the preservation of our food supplies.

CDD can be caused by disease, parasites or — wait for it — overwork. What’s happening is bee keepers are forcing bees to work for longer hours and over the whole year than nature intended them to work. For instance, bee keepers move the bees from the Californian almond farms to the apple and pear orchards of the North in summer and then to the citrus plantations of the South in winter. All this unnatural moving around means the bees are being worked to death and the bee colony eventually collapses.

There’s a lesson there about sustainable agriculture and maybe a lesson for people who work long hours, too. Some organisations have a long-hours culture and people are afraid of losing their jobs if they don’t put in lots of ‘voluntary’, unpaid overtime every week. Technology gives us the ability and flexibility to take work home with us and work all the hours we want to or feel obliged to work, especially in the global marketplace that never stops working. And when we’re not working, many of us have family and household responsibilities and all sorts of other pressures on our time.

And you have to wonder–how productive and efficient can over-worked people be? The answer is: not very.

People who regularly work more than 60 hours a week have a marked increase in the risk of depression, illness and injury than people who work more reasonable hours. In Japan, death from over-work is so common it has a name: karoshi, estimated to be responsible for up to 10,000 deaths a year in Japan.

To anthropomorphise a bit, people and bees are perhaps not so different. Work is good for people and it’s good for bees, but too much work doesn’t just make Jack a dull boy; it could also make Jill a widow.

What is your ideal working style?

Last week, we considered the plight of the humble bee. Bee colonies are dying out worldwide due to overwork, putting our food supplies in jeopardy since we depend on bees to pollinate so many of our food crops. Future food supplies aside, working too hard doesn’t do people much good, either.

At a lecture at the University of South Australia, Professor Ellen Kossoki from Michigan State University’s School of Law and Industrial Relations shed some light, based on her research, on how we can prevent our bodies and our productivity from collapsing from overwork. There are three physical and psychological ways we can manage the boundaries between work and family, pay most attention to what we most value, and our relationships. She calls them integrator, separator and volleyer.

But first, three questions. On a scale of one to five:

  • Do you attend to personal and family issues at work often, rarely or somewhere in between?
  • How often do you think about work at home?
  • Do you take work home by, for example, making work-related phone calls or attending to emails during the evenings, weekends and holidays?

Integrators mix their work and personal lives. Separators isolate work and personal tasks and commitments. Volleyers switch back and forth between integrating and separating; for example, they’re separators when travelling and integrators when at home. Academics, tax accountants and others whose work is cyclical are often volleyers.

To work optimally and achieve satisfaction, you need to work in the way that makes you most comfortable. Separators, for instance, need to guard against allowing technology to force them to integrate work and personal time.

Professor Kossoki also suggests keeping a time log tallying the time you spend on yourself, resting, working, exercising and so on. Turn it into a pie chart. Then make another pie chart showing how ideally you would divide your time between these activities. Then compare your two pie charts to see how well you align your values with how you spend your 168 hours a week and make any changes you need to so that you, not technology, careerism or anything else, prevents you from being the architect of your life.

Remember that your team members may not work the same way you do or as each other, either.

How to be convincing

Whether you’re selling your ideas to a customer, your boss or your work team, put the three cornerstones of persuasion in place: 1) a solid case 2) structured to the person or people you’re trying to convince and 3) your ability to gain their confidence. For complex ideas or ‘big asks’, add a fourth cornerstone: leading the person slowly, one step at a time, towards agreement.

  1. Build a solid case.
    To build a sound argument, you need to do your homework. What is your premise, or the basis of your argument? What are its pros–how will it add value, be cost-effective, help achieve the organisation’s or the other party’s goals? What are the cons, so you can develop counter-arguments? (In a sales situation, know what the competition is offering.) What could be lost by not adopting your ideas?Now think about the supporting arguments you can call forth. This reasoning is the foundation of building a solid case.Next, work out how you can best back up your case with evidence, examples, personal stories and so on. You want to illustrate your ideas in a clear and memorable way. When appropriate (for instance in sales) include information that shows your proposition is unique. Since the behaviour and actions of others can be powerfully persuasive, explain or show how others agree with your proposition.
  2. Structure your case to the person.
    Listen carefully to the other party’s point of view so you know how to present your case for maximum persuasiveness. What are they most concerned about? What are their short-term and longer-term goals? Show how your ideas fit in. What do they already know and think about the ideas you intend to present? Build on the positives and gently counter any negatives.Use this information to ‘speak their language’ and ensure your premise fits in with their world view. This makes it easy for the person not just to understand you but also to agree with you.Debbi Thompson believes there are four types of people and it helps to know which type you’re dealing with. There are those who listen and make up their minds quickly, often after one conversation. They aren’t pushovers but they are quick decision-makers. Then there are those who need to hear your argument two or three or sometimes four times before they feel comfortable with it. Others take an even longer period of time to make up their minds whether they agree with you. Finally, there are the ‘brick walls’, those you can seldom convince of anything. Knowing who you’re dealing with saves a lot of frustration and helps you remain patient.
  3. Establish your credibility.
    People want to work with, do business with and support the ideas of people they like. Show how you are similar in terms of common interests or backgrounds and match some of your body language and speaking speed to the other person’s. Establish mutual ground and shared objectives. Show that you want to cooperate to achieve mutual goals. It’s all about building trust and establishing effective working relationships.When appropriate, give a small and unexpected gift. Nothing flash or expensive–bringing a coffee for each of you or sharing a snack would do. It doesn’t have to be a material gift, either. Offering a genuine (not smarmy) compliment can work, too.Once you have built a cordial relationship, build your credibility. Let someone else or your own reputation build you up when you can so you don’t have to ‘blow your own trumpet’. (When you have to blow your own trumpet, do so matter-of-factly and provide evidence.) Your expertise can be based on years of experience, qualifications or anything else that is relevant.

    Presenting your case with confidence, commitment and energy adds to your credibility.

  4. Take one step at a time.
    Ask for small agreements and commitments initially, because they smooth the path for greater agreement and bigger commitments. Make sure they’re voluntary; ‘railroading’, or forcing agreement, is counterproductive. When possible, these agreements should be made in public and better still, backed up in writing (even if you need to write the confirming email or memo.)Strengthen your position by making concessions on minor points. Being open-minded and accommodating invites the other party to be the same.

The higher the stakes, the more effort and thought you put into presenting your case so that others accept it pays off.