The Control Problem LO24067

From: Fred Nickols (nickols@WORLDNET.ATT.NET)
Date: 02/25/00

Replying to Jan Lelie in LO24035 --
[Was Objections to LO]

>And that is, i think, the only negative side of a learning organisation:
>you're supposed to give up managing other people's behaviour. But what is
>any organisation about: controlling behaviour. For me it is on the same
>level as seeing people as means. The moment you think somebody else is not
>an end in his- or herself, but a means to a goal, that is the moment the
>LO goes out of the window.

I think it is safe to say that many if not most people in an organization
view the primary task of management (or at least supervision) as one of
controlling the behavior of others. So, on that score, I'm inclined to
agree with Jan. Moreover, that emphasis on controlling the behavior of
others is indeed rooted in seeing others as means to a goal; more
specifically, it's rooted in a failure to distinguish between the control
of results and the control of activity. When working was mainly
muscle-based (and a lot of it still is), the surest way to control the
results of work was to control the activity of the worker. Control
centered on working instead of work. Work consisted of prefigured
routines and the primary aim of management was compliance. Now, in the age
of knowledge work and knowledge workers, controlling the relevant behavior
of the worker is impossible ("It goes on in the head where it can't be
seen"). Consequently, we see a lot of emphasis on self-managed teams,
calls for individual initiative and accountability and so forth. The
command-and-control model breaks down when dealing with configured work.

Where we are, then, is at a place where the old control model has broken
down and we don't yet have a new one that is up to the task at hand. We
are and have been for many years up against what I have called "the
control problem." One element of the solution to this control problem is
the renegotiation of the "contract" (as a figure of speech) between the
individual and the organization. And I mean the renegotiation of that
contract, not its unilateral redefinition by management. That simply
won't work; indeed, it will make matters worse.

The old contract was essentially pay and a modicum of job security in
return for compliance with the dictates and directions of management. The
new one must elicit meaningful contributions from the employees, of that
much we can be certain. What is less clear are the kinds of inducements
that will elicit them.

So, yes, most organizations are about controlling behavior. But they
shouldn't be. That's the wrong focus.


Fred Nickols The Distance Consulting Company "Assistance at A Distance" (609) 490-0095

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