Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Control Paradox

While talking to a friend about the latest micromanaging attempt from her VP, a question popped up suddenly. "Why is it that majority of the complaints I hear (aside from their managers has their head up their proverbial bum) are about how their manager/direct/vp/etc. can't seem to let go and just let people do their job?" After giving this some thought, it all really boils down to control and the illusion vs. reality of control, and the paradox of control in any hierarchical structure.

Problem starts with the type of people who are driven/wants to become managers. They are usually people who enjoys and thrives on the feeling of control, in short "control freaks". While it is true that higher your go up the corporate ladder the more control you have over your own destiny, you actually have less and less control over what actually happens within their organization on a day to day bases. This is the control paradox, higher up you go, the less actual control you have. The only control you have is how you lead, cajole and motivate your people.

Unfortunately, too often when a manager is confronted with this reality, instead of trying to adjust their style and learn to control what they can, they attempt to regain a sense of control. They usually do this by attempting to make sure everyone does everything exactly how they would do it and make sure that only they can make any real decisions. While this gives them the illusion of control, in reality it not only give them no actual control, it also undermines the team and ultimately leads to less control.

"How would that lead to less control and undermine the team?" you ask. "How can a simple act like that make things even worse!!!" you say. "Why don't they just obey me like they should!!?" you scream.

Well, unlike robots (which is what those managers would rather have) most workers in today's intellectual based industries are intelligent, thoughtful and (most importantly) independent people with their own ideas. In fact most corporation spends large sums of money to ensure they hire intelligent and free thinking people. When a manager attempts to force and control how people think and perform their job, they end up undermining the company's investment in these staff and completely disenfranchises the crew.

Because your crew ARE intelligent and free thinking people, they will attempt to do what they feel is best and only follow contrary commands under duress (usually the fear of losing their jobs). Any attempts to at this illusion of control will only result in creating a mutinous crew who will crumble and break apart just when you need them to act as a team. Beyond this obvious drawback the less obvious drawback is the fact you are losing the "agility" and "flexibility" that is so important in today's business.

Your crew deals with your customer/systems/process at a very intimate and direct level, they know what actually works vs. what doesn't actually work, and what is likely to work and what wouldn't. Not to mention all the knowledge of what is truly important to your customers/users/etc. When you take away their ability and leeway to think, you not only lose all those insights, you also lose the quick responses to your daily issues that keeps a team (the company by extension) running smoothly. Without those quick responses you end up have to deal with constant crisis, ultimately being lead and ruled by crisis and situations instead of getting ahead of them. The constant need to deal with crisis tires out your team which further erodes their effectiveness, resulting in a very vicious cycle, that's sustained by high turnover rate.

So in summary to all you aspiring managers and captains, never substitute the reality of control for the illusion of control. When you do, you'll just create a team that's headed for the proverbial rocks.

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