Speaking at a keynote for leaders of organizations, Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at the renowned London Business School and authority on the future of work, once again impressed upon them the importance for future organizations of loosening control and giving employees autonomy in order to mobilize collective intelligence.
In our experience, loosening control is a major obstacle for many managers / leaders. Dutch entrepreneur Allard Droste, who described the story of Aldowa's successful transformation in Semco in de polder (in Dutch), recently said: "Start trusting people from day one" and "do not start interfering after you have clearly explained the strategy and defined the roles". Although he is rarely at the office - because the business is running smoothly without him being present - he admits that he occasionally has to remind himself of his own words.
The need for control is a primitive human protective response. The need grows when we feel like we are losing the overview because of the (perceived) increased complexity of our world or environment. And the sense of losing control or grip increases our fear of sanctions taken against us by "the system", "the top" or "the organization".
The ever-increasing need for control inevitably leads to bureaucracy. In the spring of 2017, Prof. Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini surveyed 7000 readers of the Harvard Business Review on the degree of bureaucracy in their respective organizations. The results are chilling and bear little hope.
It is likely that the more controlling the culture of an organization is, the more difficult it will be for its employees to loosen control and the longer it will consequently take to instill the desired behavior. Hence the immobility of bureaucratic organizations.
The well-known expression: "trust is good, control is better" attributed to Lenin, summarizes the behavior well.
Despite these rather discouraging observations, we see a growing number of organizations becoming aware of the risk of the vicious circle and starting to embrace the new behaviour. Positive results are showing, not a bit too early. Plenty of inspiration can be found by looking at pioneers such as Morning Star, Semco, Nucor and Haier. More on those in subsequent posts.