An Issue of Control

April 14th 2015 - Tuesday

By Dr ArLyne Diamond

Whether Outsourcing, Managing, Teaching or Parenting – the issue of control, how much, how little, when and where to let go is one of the most critical questions plaguing the person in the position of leadership – and irking the recipient of that control.

What are your needs to control or to be controlled? Are you afraid of letting go? Or do you suspect that if you let go completely you won’t get blamed if things go wrong? Or, are you wise enough to treat the issue of control on a case-by-case – person-by-person basis?

One of my favourite little tests is the FIRO-B, which measures several things including the desire to control and/or be controlled. Obviously for each individual there are differences – and differences at different times or under different circumstances.

However, businesses must make decisions as entities and have their management implement those decisions effectively. Let’s look at some of the areas in which these decisions have to be made – and for the fun of it – let’s include teachers and parents.


One of the major decisions facing all organisations is what to keep and what to outsource. The experts tell us only to keep our “core competencies” and to outsource all else – but many fear that the more outsourced, the more the loss of control.

Should we do the work in-house where we have (or at least have the perception of) complete control – or knowing these products/services aren’t our core competencies, outsource them to experts accustomed to handling them?

Should we have in-house sales people or work with distributors?

What about lawyers, accountants, and other professional experts that are not needed full time?

If you are to outsource, your controls exist in the contractual relationship you establish as well as in the actual person-to-person relationships you develop. The contract allows for litigation (or alternative dispute resolution) should things go really bad, but resorting to this is a last-resort.

Now if thinking about money as a motivator the answers are: If they are selling something for you, the obvious is to make their commission structure more worthwhile than they are receiving from others they serve. If professional experts, or manufacturing experts, the obvious is to pay them more.

But money is only a threshold motivator.

Relationship building becomes the key answer. You need to build rapport, trust, and a mutual desire to have win-win relationships with all the people involved from the outsourced company. They need to put you first – before all the other companies they serve.

Control exists within the relationship – not because of an authoritarian structure.


Finding the perfect balance between micro-managing and abrogating responsibility is often quite difficult. It’s so easy to micro-manage when you have the skills and experience to do the job you are asking others to do. Sometimes you even get itchy fingers, dying to get in and get it done. Sometimes even, managing takes you away from what you love doing – which is the work itself.

On the other hand, there are those who say, “you figure it out” – expecting people who don’t have that level of knowledge, understanding, or experience to find a process to accomplish something themselves. This is being too loose – this is actually abrogating responsibility.

Then there is the quandary about how to deal with employees new to you – but having gained experience someplace else – they may even have earned more money, or have a higher title than you. How do you manage them? Do you just leave them alone and cross your fingers, hoping for the best?

I teach a funnel theory of management. At the very bottom of the funnel is tight control and at its top very loose control. I believe that in a new management-managee relationship, control should be tight. This is so you and the person being managed get to understand each other’s style, language, means of communicating and perception of excellence and success. There is a learning curve that takes time to accomplish. This is true even for the experienced employee new to your group or company.

If you start with a loose control and find yourself having to tighten it, you are punishing the other person and leaving them feeling criticised and demeaned. Whereas the opposite is true when you start to loosen the control – that feels like trust, a compliment and creates good feelings and higher motivation.

Obviously, with people who are new to the work it is helpful to help them in the beginning and to watch what they are capable of achieving on their own – thus again starting with tight control and loosening it as your charge becomes more adept at not only doing the work, but also in understanding you, your values, your style of communication and the company’s needs.

Just one quick example – often new startups hire someone’s wife, sister, or friend to be “the administrator” – leaving this person to set up all systems for bookkeeping, inventory control, filing, benefits and others. Yes, this is an intelligent woman who is quite capable of maintaining all these activities – but is she an experienced office manager, accountant and administrator?

Who knows how to set up the most effective processes and systems? Probably not. That’s where you hire someone to set everything up and train your new administrator and no doubt she will prove to be a shining star … Instead of someone having to work twice as hard to accomplish something because of a less than ideal system or process.

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