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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Control Myth

Control is a very much misunderstood concept. The bottom line is this:
Self control is a good thing, an essential thing. Attempts to control others are doomed and will be harmful to all concerned.

This is difficult to write and it is difficult to publish in a public forum. I know it will be resisted and may stimulate reactions from others that will not be beneficial to me. I have made a conscious decision (self-control) and hereby renounce any expectation with respect to responses, reactions, and results.

I retain my hope that the statement may create thought processes that lead others to alter the ways in which they interract with their world.

The conscious reader may note that my statements regarding control are framed relative to people. Control of inanimate objects and such abstraction as process is not only good, it is mandatory. Please note, however, that control of (for example) a process is not the same as control of the people involved in it.

You may have heard of Total Quality Control (TQC) or Statistical Process Control (SPC) and the need to have and use controlled process in order to insure high quality production. A study of these methods has led me to a new understanding of control.

When we think of control we typically associate notions of power. I control something when I can make it bend to my will. A manager is said to control an organization or function. A driver may be fined for failure to have control over their vehicle. This is one of the reasons why TQC and SPC have such a diffcult time gaining traction in the business world in the U.S. (the environment with which I am most familiar). The control that is the core of Quality methods has nothing whatsoever to do with my or anyone else's will. If anything we need to look at it from the opposite direction.

A process is either functioning within understood parameters (in control) or it is not. If it is not, we say it is out of control. What we mean is that we have just discovered that we don't understand the parameters as well as we thought we did. Now we can assert our will to change the process so that the new (improved) understanding becomes part of it. It is potentially life changing to realize that the process is literally in control--that it, is has the control. The evidence is that it produces what it produces. If we desire to change what is produced, we must listen to the process, understand its needs, and give it what it needs.

To take a giant step that may require backfill later, if I have a need to control something, the variability or consistency of output for example, I must give up control to the process. If I have a need to control the people, I must give control to them as keepers of the process. They have a far better ear for what the process is asking for and can give it what it needs. When they can't give it what it needs, they will come to me and tell me what I must do.

To have control, I must give up control.

Life is a process.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Enforcement and Accountability

Recently I responded to a discussion question on a LinkedIn group forum. The question dealt with how to enforce standards in a data management and stewardship scenario. The other responses mentioned the use of various committees and steering groups as well as management partners for enforcement of standards. One response suggested that a lot of messy people problems could be avoided if automated tools were used to find areas of non-compliance.

I can't help but think that we, as a society, must be nearing the pinnacle (or the pit) of buck passing. When I as an individual choose to ignore an incident in which an action by someone else either ignores the general good or threatens the welfare of all, I am turning my back on accountability and passing the buck to "someone" else.

There have been many instances in which a malefactor, caught in the act, has told me, "What's it to you? What do you care?" If I point out that the action was, for example, in violation of published standards, I might hear, "Nobody follows that. I didn't know it existed until you showed it to me."

The point is that it takes a lot of will in the face of widespread apathy to be accountable for not only following standards, but insisting that others follow them. A study, which I am unable to cite, showed that the rate of deterioration in a neighborhood increases when individual incidents are ignored. For example, a window broken by vandals goes unrepaired or "tagging" of a wall is not erased. Ignoring an incident encourages similar incidents and then worse ones.

I realize I am comparing failure to follow standards with vandalism and I do this with intent. If we assume the existence of a set of standards, they must have a purpose. Normally, the purpose is related to quality. Every manager wants their organization to run like a "well-oiled machine." When an organization does runs this way, we say it is a quality organization. Ignoring a standard is like dropping a grain of sand into the machine. Everything may proceed with one grain, but as one grain encourages two and then three, ..., eventually the machine will break down.

Bottom line: if you're looking for someone else to enforce standards, you're looking in the wrong place. It's up to me and it's up to you. If it's a bad standard, then it's up to me and you to get it fixed. Without personal, individual accountability, you will never get adherence. Enforcement is an empty concept even outside the workplace. People will not endure coercion for long.