What is “command and control” management? Many good articles have been written on this by smart folks like Joel Spolsky and Bruce Nussbaum. A good description is included in the Traditional Management Model page of www.1000ventures.com in the section (near the bottom of the page) labeled “25 Lessons from Jack Welch“. Much has been written decrying “command and control” management, but what makes it a bad thing?
A manager-employee relationship is always a two way street. I believe when a manager takes an unnecessarily-authoritative or commanding position with a subordinate, the employee feels less respected, and will have a decreased desire to contribute. As a result, information flow up to the manager will be diminished. This will only reduce the manager’s ability to make good decisions, even to the appoint of reducing their apparent competence.
People work harder when they feel they are making a positive difference, an intrinsic motivation. The command and control management style works through extrinsic motivators such as threats, authority, and even monetary incentives, all of which prevent or even replace employees’ natural intrinsic motivation. A management style that gives people ownership of their methods, tools, and results, and in which people can feel good about collaborating with and helping those around them (coworkers, customers, and suppliers) provides intrinsic motivation, and people work hard because they like the way it makes them feel, and feel important and appreciated — the “psychological pay” principle. Everyone wants to feel good about themselves, but command and control takes that feeling away from them.
People work harder for someone they respect, and preferably like. A manager who understands that the workers in the trenches usually see the organization’s challenges and problems better than he or she can, can gain their input and support their efforts more effectively than a “commander” who assumes he or she knows, or is expected to know, more than their subordinates. This attitude only alienates subordinates and loses their loyalty, respect, and input. It may even move them to undermine the organization’s performance in subtle ways in an effort, possibly never acknowledged, and probably in a form that can’t be identified, that is based in nothing so much as a desire for revenge.
People work harder when they’re not doing it under threat. Some command and control-styled managers use subtle threats to do their job, and may unwittingly put employees in a situation where they can’t see a way to succeed. The results can be disastrous as far as morale and work performance, not only for the employee placed in that position, but for their coworkers who will see what is going on and fear being put in such a position themselves.
An example of that is a supervisor I once had. I had only been at the company for a few months, working as a lowly engineer, and one day my supervisor came in and asked me to fill out a performance review. He was having the other employees write theirs, and it was easier for him to just do everyone’s at once. I was instructed to write my own performance review and provided a standard form. Then, as he was about to leave, he turned back at the door and revealed that he had had nothing to do the previous weekend, and had written a performance review for me. I (brightly) asked if that meant that I didn’t have to write my own after all, and he said that, no, the company policy was that I would write my own. Perplexed, I asked him what it would mean if his evaluation and mine didn’t agree, and he said “Well, then … WE … have a problem.” and walked out. I’m sure he felt very powerful, secure, and in control. I, however, instantly saw I was in a no-win situation in which he was “power-tripping” me with his clear threat, and was taken aback. Not only did I lose respect for him as a boss, I also lost respect for him as a person. After that I was never again comfortable working for him, or even the company to some extent, and I was actually relieved when I was caught in the next down-sizing less than a year later.
People will passively or actively undermine a manager they think doesn’t respect them or is abusing them. Although it was said in jest, there were times in my past assignments when a particularly repressive manager would be discussed in his absence, and people would joke about having someone with a cold or flu be sure to sneeze on the next report they were to put on the manager’s desk. That is an extreme, but, once employees’ feel they are disrespected or abused, their productivity will decrease. Worse yet, the best and most marketable employees will find better employment, further damaging the organization.
Inevitably, once a manager has achieved a negative image it can take much longer to reverse that impression, even with superlative performance and efforts. In general, a manager must remember that it is possible to do damage to oneself in a minute that could take years to repair, and disrespect expressed towards an employee, even in confidence, is a huge risk.
This matter goes back to something my relatives taught me when I was a child: never say anything about someone who is absent that you wouldn’t be comfortable saying to their face. This is a hard thing for most of us, as we are all emotional and opinionated beings, each with our own flaws and preferences, but we must strive to remember this and be careful of what thoughts we express to others. I can’t claim perfection in this area either, but awareness is the first step to real personal integrity, which is essential to a good manager.
The risk of acquiring a negative image is higher for those of us with management responsibilities because our subordinates depend on us, and they need to be able to trust us to do a good job. We, similarly, are dependent on them to do a good job, and must therefore be careful to make the relationship as mutually positive and beneficial as possible. As I said at the beginning, the manage-subordinate relationship is a two-way street, and the manager who operates in a “command-and-control” mode will only diminish the performance of subordinates and the organization as a whole.
Interestingly, one of the sources linked in the first paragraph pointed out that there IS a place for command and control, but it’s when one must make 18-year-old soldiers charge, firing their weapons, across a mine field. I know of no business that operates in circumstances even remotely analogous to this.
I look forward to any comments or experiences you’d like to share. Thanks in advance – Tim