The Changing Philosophy of Control

Managers’ approach to control is changing in many of today’s organizations. In connection with the shift to employee participation and empowerment,  many companies are adopting a decentralized rather  than a bureaucratic control  process. Bureaucratic control  and decen- tralized control represent different philosophies of corporate culture, which was discussed in Chapter 2. Most organizations display some aspects of both bureaucratic and decentral- ized control,  but managers generally emphasize one or the other, depending on the organi- zational culture and their own beliefs about control.

Bureaucratic control involves monitoring and influencing employee behavior through the extensive use of rules, policies, hierarchy of authority, written documentation, reward systems, and other formal  mechanisms.20   In contrast, decentralized control relies on cul- tural values, traditions,  shared beliefs, and trust to foster compliance with organizational goals. Managers operate on the assumption that employees are trustworthy and willing to perform effectively without extensive rules and close supervision.

Exhibit 15.5 contrasts the use  of bureaucratic  and decentralized methods  of control. Bureaucratic methods define explicit  rules, policies, and procedures for employee behavior. Control relies on centralized authority, the formal hierarchy, and close personal supervision. Responsibility for quality control  rests with quality  control  inspectors and supervisors rather than with employees. Job descriptions  generally are specific and task related, and managers de-fine minimal standards for acceptable employee performance.  In exchange for meeting the standards, individual employees are given extrinsic rewards such as wages, benefits, and possi- bly promotions up the hierarchy. Employees rarely participate in the control  process, with any participation  being formalized through mechanisms such as grievance  procedures.  With bu- reaucratic control, the organizational culture is somewhat rigid, and managers do not consider culture  a useful means of controlling employees and the organization. Technology often is used to control the flow and pace of work or to monitor employees, such as by measuring how long employees spend on phone calls or how many keystrokes they make at the computer.

Bureaucratic control techniques can enhance organizational  efficiency and effectiveness. Many  employees appreciate a system that clarifies what is expected of them, and they may be motivated  by challenging, but achievable, goals.21  However,  although many managers effectively use bureaucratic control, too much control can backfire. Employees resent being watched too closely, and they may try to sabotage the control system. One veteran truck driver  expressed his unhappiness with electronic monitoring to a Wall Street Journal re- porter investigating the use of devices that monitor truck locations. According to the driver, “It’s getting worse and worse all the time. Pretty soon they’ll want to put a chip in the driv- ers’ ears and make them robots.”  He added that he occasionally escapes the relentless monitoring by parking  under an overpass to take a needed nap out of the range of the surveillance satellites.22

In addition,  some managers take bureaucratic control  to an extreme, hovering over employees and micromanaging  every detail, which is inef- ficient as well as damaging  to morale and motivation.23   The Qwest call center in Idaho Falls was about to go under  partly  as a result  of overcon- trolling front-line supervisors, until a new manager arrived with a differ- ent philosophy, as described  a bit later in this chapter.

Decentralized control is based on values and assumptions that are almost opposite to those of bureaucratic control.  Rules and procedures are used only when necessary. Managers  rely instead on shared goals and values to control employee behavior. The organization  places great em- phasis on the selection and socialization of employees to ensure that workers have the appropriate  values needed to influence behavior toward meeting  company goals. No organization can control employees 100 percent of the time, and self-discipline  and self-control  are what keep workers performing their jobs up to standard. Empowerment of employ- ees, effective  socialization,   and training all can contribute to internal standards that provide self-control.

With decentralized control, power is more dispersed and is based on knowledge  and experience as much  as position. The organizational struc- ture is flat and horizontal, as discussed  in Chapter 7, with flexible authority and teams of  workers solving problems  and making improvements. Everyone is involved in quality control on an ongoing basis. Job descriptions generally are results-based, with an emphasis more on the outcomes to be achieved than on the specific tasks to be performed. Managers use not only extrinsic  rewards such as pay but also the intrinsic  rewards of meaningful work and the opportunity to learn and grow. Technology is used to empower employees by giving them the information they need to make effective deci- sions, work together, and solve problems. People are rewarded for team and organizational success  as  well as  their individual performance, and the emphasis is on equity among employees. Employees participate in a wide range of areas, including  setting goals, determining standards of perfor- mance, governing quality, and designing control systems.

With decentralized control, the culture is adaptive, and managers recognize the importance of organizational culture for uniting individual,  team, and organizational  goals for greater overall control. Ideally, with decentralized control,  employees will pool  their  areas of expertise to arrive at procedures that are better than managers could come up with working alone.

Source: Daft Richard L., Marcic Dorothy (2009), Understanding Management, South-Western College Pub; 8th edition.

2 thoughts on “The Changing Philosophy of Control

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