How Much Control is Appropriate in Management? An Idea Revisited.

The command and control age of management is (or should be) over. The authoritative nature of interaction, and micro-management paradigm where those that have the authority – should know best – is something that has become out of mode, at least in management theory. The current thinking is that employee engagement and releasing others to develop and implement ideas is more desirable.

In a recent conversation with a colleague, the whole idea of “controlling” functions in the organization, and controlling how things get done was revisited. Being trained in both authoritarian and release/engagement management structures, I found the idea brought up again, fascinating.

The idea from my colleague – Doug Butchy ( who is a music educator went like this (paraphrase in italics):

I find myself needing to control all aspects of the organization (this being a music performance organization) because I want to make sure everything gets done – to my specifications. I now have a better understanding why others (he was referring to another colleague) always wanted to be in control of all aspects of the details. I find myself doing the same thing, to make sure things are right.

The idea was referring to the details of running a music performance group, but nonetheless an organization that is made up of rules, practices, a culture, and a “way” of doing something. My colleague’s view was that control worked for him in this type of organization. In other organizations however, having a “release” approach – where you engage others to take charge of more of the details, or delegate plans – might seem appropriate – especially where the organization’s competitive advantage is based on unleashing individual creativity in the organization. This definition may seem a bit broad because there are obviously other components that go into managing an organization. For this discussion however, it seems appropriate.

Over the ensuing several days, I have reflected on the idea why having a more control oriented management structure would work in some ways better than a more “stewardship” – servant leadership style would work. Here’s what I have arrived at:

More Control in Management is helpful when:
1. The organization – community or otherwise has a fluid workforce or membership (much like the organization that was being referred to above.

2. Staff, students, members in the organization need substantially more guidance to be successful with the task. In other words there is a learning curve in the organization.

3. The organizational task is more rigid in nature and parameters for the task are clearly understood. This would suit an educational organization, or some community organizations.

Less Control in Management is helpful when:
1. The organization’s task is more flexible, requires individual creativity, is product oriented, and employs professionals to implement their craft.

2. Where exerting more management control will only disrupt the individual capacity of the workers.

3. Where customers are involved – directly in the provision of developing products, and providing services.

Not to confuse Quality Control with “less control”, the idea for less control, does not mean there is less emphasis on adhering to quality standards, policy, procedures and the like. It also doesn’t negate the reporting relationship. Less control means that individuals in the organization are developed in such a way that they learn to manage themselves within established parameters.

The idea of using more control – often gets perceived as being a micro manager, or authoritarian – neither of which is the right definition for using more control with an organizational task. The idea here is that those that use more control are doing so, based on the unique elements and task of the organization they are managing. It has less to do with squelching employee engagement or initiative, or less to do with actually “controlling people”.


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