We don’t want to be micromanagers… or do we?

Posted on Tuesday, November 1, 2022 by Alison Humphreys - Award winning NED and strategic advisor

To adapt Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a recruitment leader must never, ever be a micromanager.

Every time the phrase comes up, recruiters tend to shake their heads sagely and concur that micromanagement is a bad thing.

But in the present situation particularly, perhaps it’s time to revisit what we mean by micromanagement and whether your business may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

It’s never been more important to get under the bonnet in your business. To understand exactly where your cash is coming from this month, and what clients’ hiring plans look like.

At my first meeting with a new client (recruitment business owner with 40 staff) last month, I was alarmed by the simple questions that he couldn’t answer about staff performance. Questions like:

  • What is our team forecasting for next month?
  • Why has Consultant X got such a high drop-out rate?
  • Who is Consultant Y focusing his BD activity on?
  • How many contractors are we expecting to finish next month?

All those attending this fact-finding meeting had staff reporting, up to a maximum of 10. This was not a listed company spread over 5 continents. In my view, there was no excuse for not having a firm, real-time grasp of these business levers.

So why has micro-management got such a bad name?

I asked the group how they would spot a micromanager, and these are the behaviours they described:

  • Constant demands for reports that take more time than generating sales
  • Focus on the small negative when giving feedback, rather than the major positive
  • Excessive emphasis on, for example, quantitative KPIs that don’t correlate directly with success
  • Avoiding all delegation and displaying lack of trust
  • All talk and no trousers- great ideas were never followed through.

Then I asked the group to think about the best boss they had worked for (in recruitment) and describe the specific behaviours that made that person great. Here’s the list:

  • Clarity of communication: we knew where we were headed and what we had to contribute
  • Delegated without dumping gave me responsibility with clear parameters and checked in on me to make sure I was on track.
  • Regular feedback, with the emphasis on “even better if” rather than “what you did badly”
  • Taught me to use a few KPIs, but look beyond quantity to quality
  • Planned time together so if things weren’t going well, it got picked up on
  • Noticed and acknowledged my contribution
  • Expected a lot and rewarded me well when I delivered it

It won’t have escaped your notice (I hope) that these two lists are, possibly, just 2 sides of the same coin, or 2 different views of the same actions and approach. So, I explored further, to see if I could discover why the person reporting might interpret interventions negatively as “micromanagement” when they were intended positively.

We identified 4 issues:

  1. Failing to explain the why, often and repeatedly
  2. Narcissistic need to make themselves indispensable- possible insecurity about their own role.
  3. Unrealistic time pressure, so plans could not be made and there was no chance for the team to learn. Delegation became “dumping”.
  4. Desperation or even panic, so no new initiatives ever took root before being replaced with another “great idea”.

In Gallup’s study of managers, they found that “The manager accounts for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement.”

Employee engagement means alignment of aims and can be measured in productivity.

It’s not just about Friday drinks and having charity drives.

So, I’m asking business leaders to take a good, hard look at themselves as we start emerging from lockdown.

You may already be feeling battered, but can you do better? Can your strategy be clearer, your implementation plans more effective, your communication more memorable?

Because that’s how you’ll get under the bonnet and achieve even more.



Alison Humphries is a highly experienced MD and NED, with 35 years at the top of the recruitment sector.

She advises directors and owners of recruitment businesses on strategy, finance, sales and management to maximise performance, enter new markets, prepare for sale and work more efficiently. 


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