Friday, 23 May 2014

Control is waste

Look around and you will find that a great many (most?) companies are busy controlling their employees. This control is effected through indicators, which aim to control what they are doing, and through procedures and processes, which aim to control how they do it.

Look deeper, and ask why such control is necessary, and what its consequences are. Control is necessary to appease the fears of management. Indeed, as Robert Dilts points out, there is a pervasive, but limiting, belief that control leads to quality. This sad notion effectively stifles innovation.

Some control is necessary: for example, nobody will dispute the need to dictate, to some extent, the behavior of assembly line workers. The source, manner, and purpose of this control are crucial. Indeed, if said assembly line workers devise their own processes to increase profits in which they have a stake (through bonuses), they will own the processes, and be able to adapt them over time. However, if the processes are imposed by management out of fear or to meet external investor-driven goals, they will be perceived negatively, particularly if the management doesn't have much technical legitimacy.

A similar pattern emerges with indicators, which are notorious in driving behavior in ways that sometimes detracts from the overarching corporate objectives. Individuals adapt their actions to meet their immediate targets without regard for whether these immediate targets have a positive collective effect. In many cases, extra effort (waste) is

Management, therefore, would be well-advised to do the following:
  • reduce the number of indicators and trust that employees will both struggle to meet overall goals and set relevant intermediate indicators for themselves (i.e.: I know that I can help overall profits by reducing my costs, so I will track my costs - I don't need management to tell me; I just need to know overall profits at all times and transparently)
  • share with employees the data and information that they need to devise their own indicators
  • engage employees in devising relevant processes in light of the overall corporate goals
  • share profits 
This requires trust and respect for line managers and workers.   

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