In spite of years of parochial schooling, I have come away with a view of the creation story that differs somewhat from what the nuns must have hoped. In my view, the great heroic figure of the story is Eve. She is everything that I respect in a person: irrepressibly curious, courageous, undaunted by authority. Most of all, she is intent upon personal growth, determined to fulfill not just some but all of her promise.
Eve's response to this rule was, essentially,“No way, Adan”. She was not about to allow her growth as a person to be so limited. She ate the fruit and took the consequences. I hope that I would have been so brave in her place.
Eve working for You
If you are a great manager, then I have a hunch you've got one or more Eves working for you. She and those like her are at least part of the reason for your success. These are the people who form the heart and soul of effective organizations. But how on earth do you manage them?
Most of all, you can't structure her work in a way that gives her no opportunity for growth. Growth is essential to Eve, as essential as her paycheck. You can no more expect her to work without meaningful challenge that you could expect her to work without salary.
The nearly equal status of challenge and pay is inique to knowledge workers. They are different from the blue-collar workers that our fathers managed a generation ago. The easy, dumb error of managing knowledge workers is to forget that they are different and assume that basic rules developed on factory floors a century ago apply to them.
The Nonprofit Model
I had occasion recently to manage a small non-for-profit organization where most of the work was done by volunteers. I noticed from the start that there was almost no way to control the work that these people did. If you looked over their shoulders enough or imposed standards that were different from their own, they would shrug and walk away from the work, leaving you to do it yourself. Control, as they see it, is their payment for working. Dny the control or assume it yourself and they're gone.
That doesn't mean you can't control the quality of their product, only that you can't seem to be controlling it. You have to impose your standard without seeming to do so, somehow causing it to become their standard. This is a troubling task for many managers, one that often causes them to flee the not-for-profit workd and go back to the familiar for-profit organization where people do as they're told.
But people never really “do as they’re told.” The difference between for-profit and volunteer organizations is that in the for-profit world people do get paid and so they are willing to give up some control to the boss, to accept at least some direction. But they don't give up all control. You couldn't pay them enough for that.
This was a great revelation to me as a manager. Without ever coming to grips with how much control workers were willing to give up to their manager, I had always assumed that I nonetheless had it all; that it was my job to control everything and their job to do everything. It took me a long time to see otherwise.
Control of Information
On a recent consulting assignment, I met with a group of process improvement researches who'd been taking surveys among management staff. They concluded that many of these managers were spending as much as 80 percent of their time in meetings. They asked me if I didn't think that was excessive. I replied that 80 percent of a manager's time might reasonably be spent with his/her workers. However, it seemed a shame to me that these managers thought of that time as meetings; I'd rather they were spending their time one-on-one with their people, or in get-togethers that were so ad hoc as to belie the description “meetings.” In some confusion, the surveyors told me that the managers were spending that 80 percent of their time in meetings with people other than their own workers. Whatever time they spent with their own people had to come out of the remaining 20 percent.
The premise here is that the hierarchy lines on the chart are also the only communication conduit. Information can flow only along the lines. But his is a disaster. The hierarchy lines are paths of authority. They are far too narrowband for all the information that needs to be communicated. Communication in healthy companies takes place in the white space. When communication happens only over the hierarchy lines, that's a priori evidence that the managers are trying to hold on to all control. This is not only inefficient but an insult to the people underneath. An Eve would never work for such a manager.
Control and Personal Growth
If you buy the notion that Eve is motivated largely by her craving for personal growth, then you'll understand why she cannot allow herself to be too closely controlled. She will see control as her main growth opportunity. That doesn't mean you can't control her somewhat, only that you can't control her completely. You have to give her some leeway, some opportunity to choose her own directions and make her own mistakes. Mistakes are important here. If she has control over her choices only to the extent that she makes the same ones that you would have made for her, she has no control at all. And of course she'll know that. There is no fooling Eve.
If you have built up any reverse of trust, you may be able to cash a bit of that in to get your way on some key matters. But not all. And the reserve of trust is quickly used up if you dip into it too often.
The Control Paradox
So here's the paradox of managing Eve: In order to keep control, you have to give it up. You have to use your authority so sparingly that no one notices that it's being used. You have to create a real sense that control is not completely centralized in your hands, but spread generously over the whole of your organization. Like a gifted helmsman, who knows that all use of the rudder increases drag and thus holds the vessel back, you have to steer with the lightest possible touch.
This text is extracted from the book:
Slack. Getting past burnout, busywork, and the myth of total efficiency
Ed: Broadway Books. Author: Tom DeMarco.