I’d like to get your input about how to deal with a coworker who micromanages laterally. I am a manager, and one of my peers, another manager, often takes it upon herself to tell the other managers how they should run their departments (even though we haven’t asked and it’s not within her realm of responsibility). It doesn’t happen all the time, but every few months or so she’ll go on a tirade and drive all of the managers crazy. For example, she’ll get on a dress-code policy kick and scrutinize every article of clothing staff wear, and then send repeated emails to department managers saying that it needs to be dealt with. The most recent time this happened, when I went to check on the “offensive” clothing, they fell completely within the code — perhaps she just didn’t like what the person was wearing?
She tells us which staff members need disciplining (when they don’t), tells us how to deal with clients, recites well-known procedures to us over and over, and will even go so far as to reorganize our service desks because she doesn’t like how they look! And I don’t mean just a little — I’m talking moving computers to a completely different location, and leaving post-it notes everywhere about why something isn’t right or shouldn’t be the way it is.
Usually I try to see where she’s coming from and consider whether she has a valid point, but often it’s just trivial things that don’t matter or don’t make sense. I’ve tried ignoring her, giving in to her, and being firm and telling her why my department chooses to do things a certain way and that we won’t be changing it. Nothing seems to help. I think she acts this way because she cares about our organization and likes to see things run smoothly, but it’s too much at times, and ultimately not her responsibility. Our organization functions well and overall our staff have good morale. I am perfectly capable of handling my team and, if I do say so myself, do a darn good job of it. How can I get her to back off when she gets like this?
Here was my advice:
I think it’s time you had a formal sit down with the micromanaging peer. Ignoring her might be the path of least resistance, but at this point it sounds like her behavior is negatively impacting the productivity of your team – and this is a problem that’s yours to remedy.
Ask her to lunch. If it isn’t completely out of the ordinary, go offsite so you won’t risk being interrupted or joined by another teammate. Tell her there’s something important you need to talk to her about, and preface the discussion with a comment along the lines of what you said in your e-mail to us: “I admire how much you care about our organization and I know that you want to see it run smoothly.” This will help to mitigate her natural response (i.e. defensiveness) to what you’re about to say.
Next, tell her that while you appreciate her input on your team’s discipline, dress, etc. you are capable of managing these issues yourself and that you’d prefer it if she would confine her improvements to her own group. Use a “this is what’s best for the organization” type of argument, such as “Right now my staff feels that it’s getting confusing cross-direction, and their work is suffering.” Try to be assertive rather than wishy-washy. You are a manager for a reason and your judgment should be trusted.
If this doesn’t work and she continues to interfere and wreck havoc around the office, you should talk to your boss on the down low. Just remember to be solution-oriented and bottom-line focused in your comments, as the last thing you want to do is come across like you are whining or complaining. You are not a tattletale and this is not a mere personality conflict. Be clear that you are genuinely concerned that because of this woman’s actions, the organization is not operating as optimally as it could be.
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