The Skill and Art of Controlling

Note

As I neared the 1,200 word mark in my last post I realized I was not going to completely cover each of my main point about the importance of managing as a leader. I kept the post shorter than required to introduce each main point with an eye toward following up with a separate post for each topic in future posts. This is the first of those follow-ups.

Developing and implementing controls allows leaders to track important operational aspects while maintaining the ability to continue looking forward in order to identify threats and opportunities.
Photo by Matheus Bertelli on Pexels.com

Frequently controls are those rules, laws, and regulations people only think about when something goes wrong. Controls are important and should be considered early in the planning process of any project. People do not like to talk about, develop, and implement controls because they feel they limit creativity and individuality. However controls unleash creativity by taking the away the need to make little decisions allowing more time to dedicate to bigger and more important work. Appropriate controls also permit decentralized supervision which allows organizations to respond to change and opportunities quicker, operate more effectively, and with originality. There are three types of controls leaders need to consider, laws, regulations, and local rules or procedures. Of the three, leaders only control the third local rules and procedures, and even then, your control may be limited on some based on your authority in the organization

Laws and regulations for the purpose of this discussion are controls imposed on all or sets of organizations by federal, state, or local governments or certain professional associations. Leaders rarely have the ability to have much influence on these controls. Rather leaders have the important task implementing ways to comply with laws and regulations that apply to their organizations. If leaders fail to ensure their organization follow these controls the penalties may result in the end of the organization.

Often we view laws and regulations as limiting factors like how many hours employees may work before they are paid overtime or what kinds of protections must be provided when using hazardous materials. Laws and regulations also specify what things organizations may do. Study and learn the permissions granted so you and your organization take advantage of every opportunity afforded by them.

Consider professional standards. Professional standards state acceptable behaviors, educational requirements for various jobs within the profession, and continuing educational minimums. Professional standards spell out behavior to be recognized as a professional. These standards are controls and serve as a road map for success. Following them serves as a basis for local rules, policies, and procedures. As a leader, it is your responsibility to develop helpful controls for your team.

I deployed as platoon sergeant in Iraq. The Army and my unit provided lots of rules and regulations about how we were expected to execute our missions. We had a unique mission that allowed us to live and work with Iraqi Security Forces. There was a requirement for us to provide protection for our post. We were given rules to use force. We conducted vehicle and foot patrols in our area of influence. We taught and mentored Iraqi Police Officers and Leaders. Much of what we were doing was new so we had to make up the rules as we went along.

Simple control procedures like how to load vehicles allows leaders to focus on the particularities of the current situation.
Photo by author

We developed simple, basic procedures about how we set up vehicles, how we set up our radios, and what gear we would bring with us before we left our tiny compound. This enable us to respond quickly during any emergency that occurred in the city. The Soldiers bucked the strict structure. The speed of our response increased as did the success of our responses. The Soldier began to understand the importance of our platoon practices. We took thinking out of the preparation and replaced it with rapid leader checks before every mission. Leaders focused on how to apply specified responses and communicate their plan with their team.

As a leader, developing local procedures is an expected but implied task. Few job descriptions specify that managers, especially front line supervisors, are allowed or expected to develop those local rules. However in the absence of those processes, front line leaders have no way to ensure those they supervise complete quality work.

Front line leaders do not need to develop the same type of in-depth procedures as their larger organization. They need to analyze what they did to achieve success in order to teach their proteges their secrets. Front line leaders are best positioned to break down complex tasks and make them understandable and possible for others. Breakdown complex tasks so others can complete them with competence. Effective controls require leaders to begin with the end in mind. In the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R Covey states this is a critical principal of successful people. Beginning with the end in mind requires leaders to understand tasks so they can teach others and understand the risks associated with those tasks. Understanding risks results in effective controls to ensure the task is done a particular way to achieve the desired outcome.

Controls include processes to record time on jobs, meetings to gauge progress, and inspections to ensure employees use appropriate protective gear to keep them safe.
Photo by Hennie Stander on Unsplash

So what things do leaders do to develop and implement controls? Examples of regulatory controls include things like maintaining time sheets, providing hazard communication training to employees, use of protective equipment, and anti-discrimination rules. Examples of professional standards include the quantity and type of education required to do a job, prohibiting certain conduct, and requiring documentation of peer consultations. Organization controls spell out how employees record time, whether by manually writing down hours on a form, using a time clock, or scanning a card as you enter or leave the work area; what kinds of reports employees need to complete and when; and what holidays employees may take off with pay. Examples of team controls may include a weekly meeting to report progress on a project, periodic one-on-one coaching sessions between employees and leaders, and how the leader selects team members for rewards such as out-of-town training events.

Controls are an important management function. They do not ensure everything will always go as planned or as expected. They are neither well liked nor glamorous. Having guidelines allow leaders to evaluate and analyze processes to figure out what things work and do not work. They identify shortcomings in the skills of others, their organization, and potential risk for loses. Leaders work within a series of controls which they are responsible to enforce and develop. Not all controls can be selected by the leader; the government and organization provide many. That does not remove the burden from leaders to develop processes, procedures, and limitations to execute work. The controls leaders develop must allow others to do work that creates results the leader envisioned in the beginning without crushing creativity. Effective controls allow organizations to execute quickly to changing situations by allowing decisions to be made at an appropriate level, allow people and organizations to take pride in the work they create, and establish important protections to mitigate risk. Leaders understand the importance of controls. Embrace the freedom controls provide to focus on more important things that make a difference. Use of proper controls ensure others become the best they can be.

Additional Reading

Bratton, W & Knobler, P. (1998). Turnaround. Random House. New York, NY

Covey, S.R. (2004) The 7 habits of highly effective people (25th Anniversary Ed.).Simon & Shuster, New York, NY. https://www.franklincovey.com/the-7-habits/

Willink, J., Babin, L. (2015). Extreme ownership: How U.S. navy SEALs lead and win. St. Martin’s Publishing Group. New York, NY. https://echelonfront.com/

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