• Steve

The Absurdity of Control

Updated: Apr 1, 2020

Once again, I find myself in a world where the desire for control outweighs experience. The mistaken belief that more grip and stronger control mechanisms mean that complex change happens faster.

Only a few weeks into a complex organisational reboot and already I can see that the pace of change has slowed down. Lots of new templates that need urgent completion have appeared. There are lots of new regular meetings and a weekly reporting regime. The requirement for detail is high, so lots of time is being spent polishing crystal balls, hoping for clarity, rather than concentrating on the relationships or engagement that would support real changes.

The tone of communication has also changed, public humiliation and terse directness has arrived, this is already spreading like wildfire and the troops are going underground or starting to point fingers at each other. Not great for creating the effective trusting relationships needed to bring different parts of the organisation together to transform services and improve performance. Leadership has leapt towards a heroic style with the associated self confidence feeding egos.

My prediction, based on lots of similar and painful experience, goes along the following lines:

  • The increased control will create an industry and soon success will start to feel like completing a plan, developing a model or completing another report, as people find ways of demonstrating that something is happening. The resulting reporting then gives the false illusion that something is actually changing. But, it isn’t. Why? Because most of the energy will go into creating documents, detailed analysis and planning, which for a change environment that is far to complex to predict in detail, won’t be very productive. The tone will drive those involved to be risk adverse, quashing most of the creativity and innovation. Teams will either be too scared or won’t have enough time to engage with the people who need to be involved directly in the change. Meaningful change will slow down, usually resulting in a worse position, with the response being even more control until either; the Heroic leader moves on, or they fail and are replaced by the next ego.

One of the problems is that management culture, management training and education   teach people how to control. So much so, that it becomes a natural tendency and it takes real effort to resist. The reason it’s there is because it’s easy to teach and in the past it worked in less complex change, like engineering projects or before the workforce was allowed to have views! We’ve moved on.

So, the purpose of the story, if you are thinking that the control route will accelerate complex change, then it won’t, so resist and don’t do it.

And, if you’re still tempted, as a control freak in recovery, I can guarantee, control is deeply unrewarding.

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