By its definition, micromanagement is when a manager closely observes and controls all of an employee’s activities. A supervisor who is a micromanager feels the need to closely oversee every step of an assignment, large and small, and assesses each action taken by the employee. Every decision made must be supervised and approved.
Law firms are busy and stressful enough. When you hire support staff or a manager that is high performing, micromanagement can have a devastating effect on morale and can cause productivity to decline.
Studies have shown when managers hire experienced and skilled, professional employees for a position, the expectation, at least on the part of the hired employee, is that there is no need for micromanagement. Often the problem that exists is not that the employee needs micromanagement, but that the manager, supervisor or attorney cannot delegate assignments and then let go. This affects a staff member’s self-motivation, initiative and causes their creativity to decline. In addition, it causes them to question themselves every time they complete an assignment and affects their self-confidence. When legal staff, attorneys or even managers (especially experience and skilled legal staff whose work can actually be a benefit to the firm due to a proven track record), are demoralized, there is a high turnover of staff, absenteeism and low productivity. The low productivity is related to the fear of more micromanaging and destructive behavior causing the employee’s morale and self-confidence to further decline.
Micromanagers monitor small details of projects assigned to employees. By not focusing on the big picture, this makes the micromanager a task manager.
Micromanagement is often caused by perfectionism, anxiety experience by the manager or, the insecurity of the manager. Many managers have never received leadership training, or some try to manage a law firm without ever having actually worked in a law firm before. These managers over-compensate their lack of experience and insecurities by over-managing employees.
Managers need to delegate the appropriate assignments and allow employees do their job. No employee is a carbon copy of the managing attorney or firm administrator. Things may not be done in exactly the same way, but if the end result is accurate and accomplishes the goal, and satisfies the need to provide exceptional service to the client, then there is no need to micromanage the employee.
I have seen law firms lose talented and experienced lawyers and paralegals and other support staff due to micromanagement. Clients often ask what “my style” of management is. My response is always the same - an open door policy with no retaliation and no retribution and I do not micromanage. There is no needs to micromanage an employee unless an employee shows me that they need to be micromanaged.
In my experience, employees who are micromanaged will eventually leave the firm. If the internal problem of the law firm micromanaging employees is not resolved, the turnover will continue.
Dealing with issues of this nature requires exceptional people skills. Sometimes it is the attorneys who need to be brought to the realization that micromanagement for the most part does not work.
From the standpoint of cost-effectiveness, micromanagement costs law firm lost revenues. If an attorney spends time micromanaging employees, this interferes with the attorney's time working on a client file. This is a financial loss to the firm, whether it is an hourly paying client, contingency case or some other hybrid fee arrangement. This loss can easily be calculated in real time dollars and cents.
If you feel that your support staff or lawyers need to be micromanaged, either you are the problem, or they are. Either way it is an issue that needs to be addressed because continuity in the make-up of your staff is important to your clients.
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