Creative Control

Written by Joe Driscoll

November 17, 2009

“Control”. The word itself has negative connotations. Most control systems are viewed as an intrusion by those being monitored. Few of us like being “controlled”.

The purpose of any control system is to insure that plans are being followed and goals are being met. If things aren’t going as planned, changes have to be made. This “control” aspect of management is often the most difficult and least enjoyable part of a manager’s job.

Control is, however, one of the four basic functions of management. No management system is complete without effective control.

Because of the importance of the control function and its negative image, it presents a manager with an opportunity for creativity. The value and acceptance of any control system will be dependent on the quality of the plans and goals that it is designed to monitor.

The ultimate function of the control process is to assist in accomplishing objectives, not to check up on people. To the extent that “control” , despite the negative connotations, is seen as an activity that aids in the accomplishment of mutually agreed upon and accepted objectives, its effectiveness will be increased.

Control systems need to generate information in a timely fashion. If you are behind, you need to learn that soon enough to take corrective action that will get you back on schedule. Control programs that yield untimely information are merely accounting exercises.

In spite of our natural resistance to them, controls can have a motivating effect. When there is a strong association with the objective and the benefits that one will derive from accomplishing the objective, employees will be motivated by the feedback and assistance that a control system can provide.

While control systems vary from business to business, most fall into one of two categories, “no control” or “blanket control”. Another system, “self control”, presents a manager with an opportunity for creative control.

Suppose you need to assign an employee the task of completing a report. The report needs to be finished in one week and it consists of ten sections, each consisting of an equal amount of work.

In a “no control” environment the assignment is made and there is no follow up. If it’s satisfactorily completed by the end of the week, fine, if not, everybody gets upset. The blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the employee who didn’t get the job done. In actuality, the resulting problem can be directly attributed to a manager who did not perform the function of control.

“Blanket control” will result in the manager “hovering” around the employee all week long, checking that things are on schedule and being done right. As a result of, or perhaps in spite of, the manager’s “hovering”, the job will probably get done. In the long run, however, this is an environment in which an employee will be reluctant to show initiative and take responsibility. Managerial time that could have been directed to other areas will have been wasted “hovering”.

Assuming that the manager knows that each of the ten sections requires approximately one half day to complete and that, if an employee gets no more than one day behind, with overtime and assistance, they can get back on schedule. The manager has the opportunity to develop a creative “self control” system.

The manager instructs the employee to report back after the first section has been completed. Sounds like no big deal, right? Wrong. The manager has transferred the reporting responsibility to the employee without losing control. Without having to “hover” or having had to say a word, the manager will know by noontime if things are on schedule. If they are, the manager will have the opportunity to give some positive reinforcement and to establish another reasonable check point.

If early afternoon arrives and the manager has yet to hear from his employee, the manager knows there is a problem. Although the manager knows the answer, it’s now time to inquire how things are going. As opposed to the irritation caused by the “hovering manager”, the employee will view this inquiry as helpful assistance.

By applying the principle of “self control”, the manager has created a situation in which control is maintained, responsibility is seemingly transferred to the employee, and a manager’s question is interpreted as assistance, not interference.

Control is one the four basic functions of management. It is a responsibility that is often neglected or misused. Control is also an extremely sensitive area with most people. As a result it presents a creative manager with an opportunity for excellence. Because it’s your business, take advantage of that opportunity and build a system based on creative “self control”.

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