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 Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 3/18/2004

This is your bi-weekly e-Newsletter from Effective Engineering Consulting Services (www.effectiveeng.com).  If you would like to receive Effective Engineering e-newsletters as they are published, please send an email to e-newsletter@effectiveeng.com, and we will add you to our distribution list.  Comments and suggestions are welcome and encouraged!


Mis-Managers: Employee Challenges 3
By Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [tdennis@effectiveeng.com]

In my 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 and eN-040304) 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 employees’ futures.  As with my Herding Cats series, (see eN-031106, eN-031120, eN-031204, eN-031218, eN-040108, eN-040122), 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 characteristics.  Every situation is also unique and should be treated in a unique fashion.  The 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 with them.

The People Micro-Manager:
The Challenge:  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 interest.  Especially 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 the company.  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 decisions.  To 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 approval.  Further, 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 design ideas.  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 creativity.  Ask 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 with.

The Process  Micro-Manager:
The Challenge:  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 overstated.  The 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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