It's time to reinvent management. You can help.

Transcending the trade off between freedom and control

by Polly LaBarre on December 13, 2013


polly-labarre's picture

Transcending the trade off between freedom and control

Watch MIX co-founder Gary Hamel make the case for renegotiating the trade off between freedom and control at work. Can you imagine a future where you can not only bring your own device to work but also design your own job and choose your own boss?

If you have a story or a bold idea about expanding individual autonomy at work, share it now in the Digital Freedom Challenge. Last chance! Deadline for submissions is December 20, 2013.

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nazeer-sultan's picture

Control is only a small yet dominant part of our repertoire of Management behaviours that we have learnt.It's part of our DNA.They flow from our 'reactive' tendencies....all those habits we have acquired in order to survive as 'successful managers' be perfect,driven,ambitious,autocratic.Variants of this behaviour also include Complying and Protecting.[The Leadership Circle Methodology].Trust and Freedom lie on the other side...the Creative and includes behaviours such as Relating,Authenticity,Self-Awareness,Achieving.These flow from 'purpose' and one's 'genius/essence'......another level of 'thinking/operating'.At best,most of our management/leadership development effort has been 'horizontal' with tons of tips formula and prescriptions;leaving our 'thinking and habitual ways' intact.We need to be more vertical inclined....getting to the heart of our 'internal operating system'.This VUCA age compels us to move from Inside Out....and be more intentionally purposive.Human dignity ought to be the foundation of our organisation design.With such an orientation,control will eventually lose it's grip and seduction

koshy-samuel's picture


ruth-bacigalupo's picture

If you link these ideas to concepts of human motivation it becomes really important for individuals to understand their own motivational drivers in order to flourish in organisations. As you mention, control is sometimes an integral part of the territory e.g. in manufacturing and highly regulated contexts including public sector and it can be there for a positive reason - quality control or public accountability. Individuals operating in those contexts need to be able to function in this environment. Ironically this can create more innovative individuals because it's not enough to just have the idea, they then have to skilfully navigate the control territory to surface that thought. The challenge for these organisations, as I see it, is to maintain a compliant/optimal level of control without completely stifling the channels and foundations of individual motivation to free up innovation and questioning.

andrew-maxwell's picture

In my Ph.D. research I investigated how investors made the decision to invest in early stage ventures based on the behaviours of the entrepreneur. I found a strong link with trust behaviours, more importantly I found that trust damage caused investors to either not invest (due to distrust) or introduce controls (due to mistrust). You can see a summary of the paper in my TedX UW presentation

I will share with the MIX community five insights, which are stimulated by my answer to a question I attempted to answer in a recent presentation I gave on Barriers to Innovation in corporations, where I concluded that my observations about the role of trust behaviours and the introduction of controls was a key determinant of the innovative capacity of a business relationship. I would welcome any specific examples members of the community are willing to share with me, as I assemble a book on this research.

1. Trust and control are indeed opposite, trust is the expectation of a future behaviour by another party without the ability to directly control their actions, while controls are the establishment of rules to ensure behavioural compliance.
2. Specific behaviours can build, damage or violate trust, they depend on which facet of 12 observed trust behaviours are damaged and the intent behind that behaviour (for example omission versus intent to deceive).
3. The nature of controls introduced to repair damaged trust are fundamentally different from the nature of controls introduced to repair violated trust.
4. Trust builds over time, but can be damaged instantly...the impact of trust damage on the relationship depends on both the behaviour, and the strength (history) of the relationship until that point in time.
5. The introduction of appropriate control mechanisms in a relationship can enhance trust development and allow higher levels of trust to develop, whilst the introduction of inappropriate control mechanisms can have the opposite effect - stifling trust development and damaging the relationship.

rudolf-l-tke-schwienhorst's picture

Thanks a lot for opening the discussion at all and for the way you did it. There still is one point I would like to point out somewhat different. I would prefer to shift the dichotomy that you introduced for the discussion from freedom and control more to trust and control.

Doing so I like to remember the Lenin-phrase saying "Trust is good, but control is better". Taking this as the preferred thesis of our century of management and control its not difficult, to come up with the antithesis of "Control is good, but trust is better", that might better match for the next century.

But since we know from the dialectical process of thesis and antithesis, that it is always looking for the synthesis, I should not hesitate to offer it. To do so, I would have to insert a helpful distinction: it comes with the answer to the question "Who does control whom if we are talking about control?"

Related to management we usually have in mind a boss controlling his/her subordinate. Why not to talk about the boss controlling him/herself and a subordinate doing the same?

This little distinction would allow us to come up with the synthesis: If you trust into yourself, you will be able and willing to control yourself. And the result from this self-control will hopefully again strengthen your trust into yourself.

richard-melrose's picture

Freedom and Control are not mutually exclusive. Each has its place. Peter Drucker, who coined the term "knowledge worker" in 1959, articulated the necessity of knowledge worker autonomy, continuous learning, managing oneself, continuing innovation and the knowledge worker as both "volunteer" and "executive". He advocated piloting the necessary attitudinal changes to boost knowledge worker productivity, "the biggest of the 21st century management challenges" and a "first survival requirement" in developed countries.

A well articulated, goal-directed, purpose-serving enterprise strategy provides all the necessary structure (control) to enable knowledge worker initiatives (freedoms) to accelerate purposeful value creation and capture. Unfortunately, according to many experts (e.g. Michael Porter, Richard Rumelt, McKinsey & Co., Booz & Co., Roger Martin and A.G. Lafley, among others ), most companies do not have a "real" strategy, let alone one that engages the entire organization, enlists its collective talents and knowledge and provides lines of sight from individual and work group contributions to THE (one) goal.

In keeping with the MIX Digital Freedom Challenge … today, any business can express its comprehensive enterprise strategy in logic tree form, as a systematic, ongoing, step-by-step process. Employees already routinely use the underlying "If __, then __." and "in order to __, we must __" sufficiency and necessity logic. Available low-cost software (with free reader) facilitates the formulation, validation, documentation, alignment, communication, execution, monitoring and adaptation of complex enterprise strategy, at any desired level of detail.

xavier-holingue's picture

With more freedom, i have no doubt that my contribution to my company would be much more valuable
I hope to live long enough to see that coming

paul-cesare_1's picture

Wow! Go Gary Hamel.
In the majority of today's workplace environments, managers score more points and get promoted for empirically demonstrating their capabilities for exerting more control. That's the game. The game also rewards managers for exercising their power over others for self-seving, self-perpetuating initiatives. Manager wantabees are continually sharpening their skills in this capacity also. Very few, if any, managers in power, will ever identify this uber-controlling, polarizing behavior as unacceptable behavior. In the workplace, let controlism flourish where controlism is needed. However, where productivity, based on human growth, positive, sustainable relationships and creativity is needed, this type of uber-controllong management behavior must be identified as a detrimental, toxic disease that poisons individual autonomy and organizational health and producrtivity.

kevin-obrien's picture

I can imagine this future.

fabio-cecin's picture

Mr Hamel, I think the technology of management is much older than "100, 120 years" as you suggest:

The Messy Link Between Slave Owners And Modern Management


EDIT/P.S.: Otherwise, dead on.

jamal-ghamari's picture

Fabio, what Gary is talking about, is not Management, but specifically Modern Management which was invented a century ago or so. Management in general was actualized the first time a number of people came together and decided to work as a group, perhaps the first group hunting in the history. But in the modern era, management got modernized by folks like F.W.Taylor, Max Weber, H. Ford, and so on. Gary is now trying to criticize the paradigm behind modern management.

fabio-cecin's picture

From the paper: "But as the next section demonstrates, none of the three main schools of managerial thought Grey (1999) identifies (technical, elite, and political) sees the management of people who were slaves as having anything to do with modern management." The paper, for instance, is exactly about how we completely ignore where modern management evolved from. As an analogy, we don't have to _be_ apes to look into apes to understand ourselves better, even if we don't throw feces at each other. You'll also find "Modern Management" in the _title_ of the Forbes article.

If you care to actually look into the matter, despite the fact that modern (or "recent") management schools don't, perhaps you'd find traces of the fundamental disrespect that comes with looking at a person as a "resource" (an object, something to be controlled and exploited), regardless of whether that person is physically or mentally coerced into that "managed" role.

koshy-samuel's picture

Organizations today need to INNOVATE inside out and outside in... Unleash the hidden human capabilities and give them Freedom to Create the future...Improve your human productivity.. Choose your own Boss .. Set your own Compensation... Design your own job.. Control your own future..What is YOUR STORY.. Do share it to the World to make that big difference...

koshy-samuel's picture

Organizations need to do a REALITY check of their own pulse before getting an heart attack !
Why I think every Organization CEO need to do the talking right from the bottom and not the top.. The real feedback of the truth without any dressing up come only from the real bottom. The essence you will find at the bottom and at the top is just the clear matter....