Transformation requires a fundamental shift in how the organizations collaborate to make real change happen.
When it comes to guiding an organization through transformative change, control is the determining factor. How much design and direction is pushed down from the top and how much discretion is left to the rest of the organization will make or break any initiative. The best outcomes are achieved by striking the right balance between two approaches: Top-down command and control versus autonomous decision making. Moving the organization off their status quo means certain things must be directed and enforced, yet many organizations fail because so much of their energy is focused on controlling the wrong things.
Successful transformation efforts demand collaboration up, down and across the enterprise. For process optimization to occur, the organization must establish ways for people doing their work to be continuously involved. When significant design changes (processes, procedures, work standards, etc.) are desired, they must be developed collaboratively. If new methods and approaches for process, communication, safety and efficiency are foisted onto the organization, resistance mounts and the game is over before it’s even started.
- Autonomy and recognition are at the top of every single study ever conducted about what motivates people in their work. Without these elements, engagement dies and performance suffers. Self-regulating systems provide these attributes naturally.
- People know more about what is going on in their process or work area than anyone else. It is impossible to optimize any process without direct input and frequent feedback from those doing the work.
- People will not naturally form themselves into a structure of engagement that focuses on process efficiency. Instead, they will form personal networks that minimize conflict. Correcting this tendency is where leadership focus is critical in helping to drive process ownership and improvement through cross-functional teams.
Culture Is No Excuse for Poor Leadership
The culture of the organization and individual leadership styles will impact how transformation efforts go. It’s usually difficult to tease one out from the other since they are the product of their collective and often mutual experiences. Even so, it is a mistake to use culture as an excuse for poor progress. There are ways for leaders to adjust their approach within the context of the existing culture. In top-down environments, unless there are real changes in the fundamentals of collaboration, it soon becomes evident that the “transformed” enterprise looks and operates as it always has.
Control Systems are Easy to Recognize
Self-Regulating Systems – Feedback, input and action at the work-group level are the hallmarks of good performance systems. Self-regulating systems engage the organization to do three things:
- Self-monitor current performance
- Independently generate ideas about how to improve
- Take autonomous actions to improve outcomes
These systems integrate those doing the work in the design of the process and ask what needs to be done to optimize performance. These systems are less bureaucratic and faster to react.
Command and Control Systems – Here, process design and work standards are developed far away from the work processes. Command and control systems:
- Externally monitor, audit and report current performance back to those doing the work
- Mandate what to improve – often focused on systems, not processes
- Authorize actions that are compliant with their control function
Those who embrace and perpetuate authoritative command and control systems believe that top down management knows more about how work should be done than those closest to the work. These “managers” hold power dearly and resist engagement for fear of losing power and control.
Authoritarian organizations are less efficient and less effective than those where a certain and significant control is pushed down into the organization. When this happens, reaction times in the dynamic environment speed up and safety and efficiency improves because decisions can be made faster. Standardizing and enforcing how the organization engages as a self-regulating system yields the greatest long-term benefit. Unfortunately those managers who survive in top-down systems are the usually the last ones willing to give up “their” control.
Loosen Your Grip
Command and control styles dominate because they are more traditional and more familiar. For bosses and managers, giving up control is tough, especially when under stress. Self-regulating systems don’t require any less work, but in them the direction from the top shifts. They require people to own their performance and enforce the best framework to make this happen.
For those control freaks out there who must control something, fear not ― moving into a more autonomous environment requires plenty of leadership and direction. No organization comes together one day and says, “Hey, let’s all take some control and regulate ourselves and own our performance!” Getting to this place requires a transition of power that requires a lot of work for both traditional leaders and their organizations who are used to being told exactly what to do. People are smart though, and they will find the best ways to optimize processes, enable standards and share learnings if they are given the chance and a mandate. Start by describing a structure that accelerates engagement, collaboration and autonomy and then make sure people are fully subscribed.