Friday, April 21, 2006

Control and Bad Management

Management writer and scholar Richard Farson once wrote about a research project conducted by the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute. They set up a special advisory center at a major aerospace corporation. Employees who needed advice could contact the center. It was a big success.

There was only one problem: It scared management. They were afraid that the center would harm the chain of command as in "If employees don't know something, they should ask their supervisors!" When the center received several hundred calls a day, the center was disbanded.

Taken from the standpoint of control, management's behavior was completely rational. Permitting employees to gain access to other opinions means they might encounter some advice that you don't entirely endorse.

Taken from the standpoint of good management, the decision was ridiculous. Employees don't exist in an isolation chamber. Every day, they get other perspectives from newspapers and magazines and even from blogs. They get them from seminars and management books. If management is so insecure that its supervisors can't cope with an employee who brings in a new viewpoint, then the organization has much deeper problems than an advisory center.

The idea that employees should bring their questions to supervisors or HR departments reflects an ideal. Even in a trusting relationship, employees may be reluctant to run questions by the boss out of fear that they may appear to be an idiot or a pest. Taking a problem to HR can be even more intimidating. The biggest danger for organizations is not that the employee may surface a matter with an outsider. The biggest problem is that the matter won't get surfaced at all and that eventually it will explode.

Some management teams, however, seem to prefer that, possibly because the blame then is centered on the employee and not on them.

Letting people get other opinions though, wow, that's dangerous.

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