Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 3/18/2004
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Mis-Managers: Employee Challenges 3
Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [firstname.lastname@example.org]
recent e-Newsletter, eN-040205
– Mis-Managers: How Bad Managers Can Poison the Well, I raised
the issue of Mis-Managers and the damage they can cause to not only
their direct reports, but to the organization as a whole.
I also discussed how such Mis-Managers typically got promoted
into their positions and “reached their level of incompetence”.
This e-Newsletter is the fourth in the “Mis-Manager” series
(see also eN-040219
that describes some specific Mis-Manager personality types, the ways
they create problems, and some suggestions as to how employees can attempt to
survive, and hopefully prosper, with such Mis-Managers.
The challenge of effectively dealing with Mis-Managers can be
daunting, as they typically determine (or significantly influence) their
As with my Herding Cats series, (see eN-031106,
which discuss Engineer personality types, I purposefully describe
characteristics that are more extreme, and that concentrate on one specific
attribute, than will normally be the case.
Clearly every Manager (and Mis-Manager) is an individual with
characteristics that are unique, and most have a variety of personality
Every situation is also unique and should be treated in a unique
suggestions I make for approaching a Mis-Manager are just one
person’s view – mine.
Given the position of power that a Mis-Manager may occupy, think
carefully about your best approach.
Micro-Managers (MM’s) come in different flavors, but
all have some common characteristics.
They all get involved far too deeply in the minutiae of various aspects
of their areas of responsibility.
They refuse to let those charged with specific responsibilities carry
out those responsibilities without excessive interference.
In some cases, they are newly promoted managers who haven’t yet
learned to let go of their individual contributor roles; there is hope for
such MM’s to learn and grow.
In other cases, they are managers who are apparently born with a
busybody gene that prevents them from getting out of the way and letting their
people do their jobs.
The result is disruptive and demoralizing to the entire group reporting
to such Mis-Managers – they simply don’t trust their people, and
their people know it and resent it.
This is especially true for engineers, who generally bring strong
technical skills, training, discipline, and independence to their jobs and
want to be given the opportunity and trust to do their jobs well.
Below are three flavors of MM’s, how their micro-management
style manifests itself, and what employees can do to most effectively deal
The People Micro-Manager:
The People MM wants to know what every employee is doing at
every point in time, and will adjust every employee’s activity or
interaction (minor or major) to satisfy his/her personal agenda.
To the People MM, employees are pawns in a chess game, the
objectives of which only he/she can see, and the contributions and initiatives
that the employees can bring to solving problems are of little value or
for engineers, such a demeaning and arrogant attitude is devastating.
Engineers want to be recognized and appreciated for what they can bring
to the organization, and they are not valued at all by the People MM.
It is as if they are just small cogs in some huge machine.
The Employee Approach:
If you have any ability to penetrate this attitude, meet with the People
MM in private, and let him/her know of your concerns and what this
attitude does to you, the group, and the organization as a whole.
You may need to speak with peers of the People MM to see if they
can get through.
If this doesn’t work, perhaps meeting with the People MM’s
boss may help, although going around him/her comes with potential danger.
If nothing works, it probably makes sense to get out of the group or
This is an unhealthy situation to live in.
The Design Micro-Manager:
The Challenge: The Design MM is all about using the
“right” design approaches that he/she thinks are needed to do the job.
This may be about choosing the “right” architecture, or programming
approach, or hardware design elements, etc.
The Design MM must get involved in every design decision,
no matter how large or small, and demands that his/her opinion be accepted,
or, at a minimum, that he/she must approve all technology and design
a degree this can be valuable if the Design MM is truly an expert with
insights others may not have.
However, as most managers are busy, when they insert themselves into
every decision, progress can slow to a halt, leaving otherwise productive
engineers twiddling their thumbs waiting for the Design MM’s
if creative engineers have to battle the Design MM over every design
decision, they will soon stop trying to present new, and often more effective
With time, they may look elsewhere for employment, and critical talent
may be lost from the organization.
The Employee Approach:
As a first step, speak privately with the Design MM, and make
him/her aware of the negative impact this approach is having on timeliness and
his/her suggestions on how to overcome these problems.
If you get nowhere, then it may be time to speak to someone else in a
position of responsibility for the product to make it clear why the group
can’t deliver on time or why more creative approaches are not being pursued.
It is most critical to deliver quality designs on time, and the Design
MM is impeding such delivery.
This problem is bigger that the Design MM and must be dealt
For the Process MM, it’s all about the way things are done,
and less about whether things are done well.
The Process MM dictates the process engineers must follow
to “properly” develop new products.
The Process MM then spends all his/her waking moments making
sure everyone follows the process, often whether it’s working or not.
Any activities outside the process are discouraged or forbidden, even
if they are productive and effective.
Any activities within the process are encouraged or demanded, even if
they are proven failures.
Everything is sacrificed to the “process god”.
Such can be the perversion of the Process MM.
Clearly, a certain level of process is required and expected, but for
engineers who are trying their best to turn out high quality products in a
timely fashion, following the process for the process’s sake just doesn’t
make sense. Engineers caught in such a situation will often rebel and look for
a way out, even if it means leaving the company.
The Employee Approach: First, attempt to speak in private with
the Process MM and make clear your concerns, and to see what he/she has
to say. Talk
about the importance of the end goal rather than just the process, and that
following the process may not achieve the end goal.
If this gets you nowhere, then find a person in a position of authority
and explain the situation.
The success of the company in delivering high quality product on time
is more critical than the success of the Process MM, and action must be
taken to correct the situation.
These are just three more of many Mis-Manager personality types that
you will come across in engineering (and other) organizations.
I’ll get into more in subsequent e-Newsletters.
The negative impact of Mis-Managers on companies cannot be
key is to recognize the various personality types and to approach them in the
most effective way to help both groups and their Mis-Managers.
Employees must recognize that Mis-Managers hold positions of
direct authority over them, and so must approach them carefully.
They must walk a fine line and find what works best for them.
Their work environment, and future, may depend upon it.
[Note: Please let me know if there are Mis-Manager personality types
you’d like spotlighted.
I’ll do my best to accommodate you.]
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