Let it go!

Last week week we looked in more detail to the first and you could almost say, the foundational principle of Semco Style: the principle of trust. Today we are going to take a closer look at a second, pivotal principle: reducing control.

The driver behind this principle is very similar to that of trust, and that is - the world of exponential growth, continuous development and never ending, fast paced change. In that world control is more than ever an illusion. It is an illusion to presume you can control developments around us. So what we need to do is actively let go of what we think we can control and there it is. Trust the people we work with, and by doing so, give them the confidence they need to be able to act upon and deal with the present circumstances.

Sounds great, but how do we go about reducing control? Because it also sounds a bit scary, doesn’t it?

First of all, the establishment of trust within your team or organization is a precursor to reducing control. At this point, there is room to start reducing controls, because the need for controlling people decreases.

The Power of Minimal Control

Reducing control works best when you replace hierarchy with purpose as an organizing mechanism. That is because humans, by nature, seek purpose: a cause greater and more enduring than themselves. By tapping into this, you are tapping into the full potential of people and organisations. The fundamental stepping stones for reducing control are:
1. Autonomy
2. Common sense
3. Democracy

1. Autonomy

Our ‘default setting’ is to be autonomous and self-directed. Staying flexible and having freedom with responsibility to customize work and its environment. 
People need autonomy over:

  • Task (what they do)
  • Time (when they do it)
  • Team (who they do it with)
  • Technique (how they do it)

Companies that offer autonomy, sometimes in radical doses, are outperforming their competitors.
Here are a few to do's to work effectively on Autonomy:

  • Empower employees in the design of flexible work practices and equip them for ongoing success.
  • Provide employees with control over their work hours, including time-off options
  • In situations in which groups of people need to work together simultaneously, let them organize themselves along any lines they choose.

2. Common Sense - Get Rid of Rulebooks

Abolish norms, manuals, rules, and regulations. They rarely solve problems. Simply replace all the nit-picking regulations with the rule of common sense and put your employees in the demanding position of using their own judgment. The strength of unwritten rules is that they are habitual within the group and thus both adaptive and resilient. Good management practice creates habits rather than rules.
Here are a few to do's you can work on to establish a common sense frame of working and thinking:

  • Create conditions and guide interactions
  • View everything as ‘written in pencil’
  • Use simple guiding principles: generic not specific
  • Guide viewpoints, don’t control actions

3. Democracy - Going Beyond Participatory Hot Air

About 90% of the time, participatory management is just hot air. It’s not that intentions aren’t good. It’s just that implementing employee involvement is so complex, so difficult, and – not uncommonly – so frustrating that it is easier to talk about than to perform it. The biggest obstacles to real democracy we found, were managers, status and money, i.e. the hierarchy they represent. The less managers do, the better. Companies should inspire and enable rather than command. Inspire your people, trust them to do the right thing, and then get out of their way and let them get the job done.

Here are a few to do’s to give democracy within your organisation some real teeth:

  • Let workers draw their own maps of the organization and its working
  • Actively encourage dissent and original thinking, because this will lead to robust decision-making
  • Respect idiosyncrasies and differences, let employees follow their own radar, because this will lead to diversity and inclusiveness
  • Let employees choose their own manager and their own co-workers
  • Pay for contribution instead of position (management level)

There is so much more to be said of Reducing Control and the way to go about it. Have we made you curious about this and other principles of Semco Style? Be sure to check out the training programs we provide.

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