Over my month in Maine, I read several books that brought to my attention the tension leaders face when deciding on where to best have the decision making process lie…locally or more central. The English and Their History spent many pages talking about the British Empire, and its struggle to maintain control locally when much of the decision making was done so far away from where the actual people lived and rule. Founding Quartet discussed the struggle the American colonies faced when writing the first constitution – more local control in the states or more central control in the federal government. This is an issue that faces most organizations, whether it is a system of schools, a multi-national corporation, a healthcare organization, a small business, a church body, and even a family unit. Who gets the final say?
Leaders have the opportunity to shape this discussion and put in place the processes and guidelines that will clearly delineate who controls what and how that control is decided and lived out. The question often becomes what is best for the organization as a whole…more central control or more local control. While I am a believer that local control is, for the most part, a better decision, I am sure that there are times that central control might best serve an institution. So how might leaders go about making that decision? Here are a few thoughts:
- what type of work is being done? Is it highly prescriptive, requiring that everyone do exactly the same thing...or is there room for achieving the outcomes in different manners?
- how does communication work in the organization? The ability to deliver a consistent message, no matter the type of communication, might determine the need for local or central control
- how quickly do decisions need to be made? The speed of decision making might dictate different times and places for central control and/or local control
- how financially strong is the organization? There are times in an organization's life cycle that one type of control is better than another...the key is being able to move between the two types of control as necessary
- is good policy in place? If people know what they are to do, how they are to do it, and what to do when things go wrong, it is much easier to have local control rather than being more centralized
- what type of culture is in place? The issue of local or central control is often embedded within an organization long before the leader arrives on the scene
The BIG issue really lays with how the leader of the organization is wired...is she a person who wants central control and believes that is best for the organization...or does he believe that local control produces the best result and is willing to let go of central control? All leaders have to understand how they see the world on this issue and determine whether or not their deep seated belief is best for the organization. Only then can they properly decide on the six issues presented above.