Friday, May 21, 2010


According to one of the books I have used in my Introduction to Business course, one of the functions of a manger is to "control." In my world, that means that the manager has to make sure that what he or she plans to have happen actually happens. Makes perfect sense to me - part of what I do in the classroom when I assess student performance...and part of what I do as a Dean when I assess program performance. However, I think there are many in management and leadership positions who have other definitions of control...

My first thought (and I am pretty sure many others' first thoughts) when hearing the word "control" have to do with controlling people's behaviors...and specifically controlling people's behaviors so that they comply with the behavior that the manager/leader determine to be the correct behavior (I hope you followed all of that). I think that when managers/leaders move into controlling behavior in this manner, they have moved into a parental role, i.e. "I know better than you do because I am wiser and more fully comprehend the bigger picture...therefore, since you are unable to make wise decisions, I will make them for you and you will comply - if you do not comply, then you will be punished." I do not know about you, but when I hear/understand/see the term "control" in that way, I begin to cringe and get upset. Ultimately, if this type of "control" continues, I either 1) comply grudingly; or 2) rebel - neither of which brings out my best work for the organization.

There are multiple ways that managers/leaders exercise this type of control over (yes, over) others:
  • large group lectures
  • one-way memos
  • performance reviews
  • hallway passbys
  • group emails
  • policies

Some of the above tactics are unofficial, and are able to generate some discussion or leave some wiggle room. Others are more official, and leave little or no room for discussion or interpretation. Most "proclamations" are often done with little input from those whom they most affect or have to implement them. Please understand that I am not saying that managers/leaders should never make decisions or ask people to do things they may not want to do; what I am saying is that when these decisions are made to control people's behavior as a parent would control a child, then there are issues with which to deal.

So how can managers/leaders be more effective in making sure things happen in an effective/efficient/orderly manner? Here are a few ideas:

  • before making policy/proclamation, ask yourself WHY it is being made...can it be fully explained that will make sense to those whom it will most effect?
  • before making policy/proclamation, ask yourself if you are doing this to curb the behavior of a few or of many...if of a few, ask yourself if it would make more sense to go to those people and ask them individually to make changes
  • before making policy/proclamation, consider whether you REALLY can control this behavior...there are some things that just can't be controlled, no matter how strong of a policy is written - then find a way to be comfortable with this reality
  • before making policy/proclamation, ask yourself if this is really good for the organization, or is it something that is just pushing your personal buttons...and be brutally honest about this one
  • before making policy/proclamation, consider the poeple whom it might most affect and then go and ask them their opinion of it...and REALLY listen to their input - this is a great time to help them understand your thinking and they may give you even better ideas with which to address the issue

I have found that most policies/proclamations are made as knee-jerk reactions to one or two people's problems - we tend to make policies/proclamations for the few rather than the many. I have also found that most policies/proclamations are written to be limiting toward action rather than expansive...and will often frustrate the best people of the organization rather than motivate them. And my guess is that the few people for whom the policy/proclamation is made will still find ways to subvert the requested action...while the best people in the organization will spend extra time trying to comply because they are the ones who always want what is best for the organization.

So consider the last policy you wrote or proclamation you what do you have to do to fix the problems it may have caused?

1 comment:

Carrie said...

What if a leader did the opposite of control and learned to trust? There would be no need to talk about control or its definition. If there is trust, efficiency and momementum move a lot faster and create an easy-going workplace.