It seems obvious, control of systems is necessary for their performance. It provides the identification required to ensure actions taken result with the desired outcome, it provides people with guidance and allows managers to intervene effectively. Can it be however, that the commonly used control systems, not only do not satisfy these important needs, but worse, they contribute to confusion, vagueness and lead to random results?
How can a control system go astray to the extent it directly leads to the opposite results than desired? Well, the obvious answers (which are not the core content of this article) are: Vagueness of objectives, or even lack of objectives, unclear measures for objectives, misunderstanding of the measures used, and even control systems that do not use any measure. And yes, more commonly than not all of these exist within organization and contribute to the ineffectiveness of the control systems.
The less obvious reasons, relate to the natural evolution of systems. All systems experience problems while executing towards realizing their objectives. Naturally some of these problems are identified and solved, others are identified and are not solved (due to the perceived cost of solving them, time required or lack of knowledge) and others are not identified, only their effects are clear. What commonly is done, in all cases is that new controls are introduced trying to “control” the situation and ensure the experienced effects are kept within acceptable boundaries. One might think, this is exactly what needs to be done. However, slowly and surely the number of controls is exponentially growing. Every manager, at all levels, is required to pay attention to more and more aspects of their work and control more and more elements of the work (which goes end in hand with an ever growing bureaucracy as well).
The interesting, and vastly overlooked effect of this phenomena is that the attempt to control everything results with controlling nothing. Well, it is not true that we control nothing, the reality is that we control the aspect of the work that currently places the largest pressure on us. Pressure resulting primarily from attention placed upon us by someone important (a higher level manager, a customer, a supplier… etc.). And mostly this pressure results from a random event that occurred right now, and not as a result of a warning the control system placed. Should the control system work well, the event would have been prevented as this was the initial purpose of the control system, wasn’t it?
We are so busy running forward to the extent we miss the heavy loads we ourselves are placing on our system. Over controlling takes the system out of control. When managers refer to the difficulties in executing their jobs, they mostly refer to uncertainty (in the so many ways it is revealed in their lives). When a system is subject to high uncertainty, you may look at it as a ship at storming waters. The more you try to control every aspect of your ship the more likely it is you will lose your ability to fight the storm. You need to mostly flex and focus on the few key controls that will keep your vessel moving ahead.
Organizations, get to a point where the major weight that slows them down is placed on them, by their own decisions and systems. You do not need to control everything to have your system under control. Ensuring control requires very few controls, well defined and placed. The rest will fall in place, naturally.