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Saturday, December 4, 2021
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Being in control

I walked into an office the other day and ha3d some specific questions and requests. As I presented myself to the receptionist and explained why I had come, she called somebody and told me to talk to that person. Sure enough, a friendly person came to see me, invited me in an office and listened to me, while I was careful to explain my problem as clearly as I could, expecting that we would make progress soon to address the issue. The officer had understood and we discussed a few options how to go about it. It ended there however, as I was now told that the boss was not around. In fact the boss had travelled out of the country and would only be back next week. I was advised to come back next week. I tried double checking whether there wasn’t anybody around who could help me further and explained that the issue required urgent attention but that was all in vain. The boss was not around and he was the only person who could make a decision on the issue at hand. Disappointed I left, pounding about what to do now.
This happens quite often and not only to me, I am sure. Some person is not around and it ends there. From the customer’s perspective this is quite disappointing but for the organization as well, not to mention “the boss” who will have many issues to attend to after coming back because others couldn’t handle them. What seems to be the problem here? In the first place, responsibilities may have not been delegated clearly, which is quite common. In the second place, I have noticed that many workers are not confident to make decisions when a senior person is not around. Afraid to make a mistake, they rather refer the customer to somebody else or advise him to come back another time. Meanwhile, customer confidence and business opportunities may be lost. While staff may not be confident enough to make decisions in the absence of the boss, the boss doesn’t seem to be confident either to leave decision making with staff while away. All are worried that a mistake will be made. Why is this so? Most likely because there are no sufficient control systems in place in the organization or the staff is not sufficiently aware of them.
Those of us who have the privilege to travel by airplane will have noticed that the pilot sometimes leaves the cockpit. Sure enough, the co-pilot is still there, but it is likely that the airplane is flying on autopilot. This means that some essential control mechanism that make the airplane fly has been activated and set to certain specifications. The airplane will maintain speed, altitude and direction within the limits set and corrections are made automatically. Without such a system, the pilot could not leave the controls but must handle them manually all the time. Compare this with running a business, where the manager could confidently leave the office because some essential control systems are in place or must be around all the time to make decisions and corrections because of the absence of control systems.
Controls are designed to set limits and to keep important functions consistent. They are important to give people guidance when the boss is not around and taking the time to develop and update good controls is an essential part of good management. It will allow for management rather than constant supervision.
Control is the set of mechanisms used to keep activities and production going within predetermined limits. Control deals with setting standards, measuring results versus standards and making corrections. It is important to realise here that while controls are needed in all organizations, just a few controls may go a long way. Managers need to be aware of the danger of too much control, which may discourage initiative and delegation, not unfamiliar in the Ethiopian context.
There are different kinds of controls: output controls and process controls.
Output controls focus on desired targets and allow managers to use their own methods for reaching defined targets. Developing targets or standards, measuring results against these targets and taking corrective action are all steps involved in developing output controls. Output controls may be used as a part of an overall method of managing by exception. In other words, as targets and standards have been set and are known, corrective measures are taken when targets and standards are not met or when things go wrong. Reliance on output controls separates what is to be achieved from how it is to be achieved.
Few organizations will run on output controls alone. Once a solution to a problem is found and successfully implemented, managers do not want the problem to recur so process controls are put in place. Process controls specify the manner in which tasks will be accomplished and may be classified into three main categories:
Policies, rules and procedures.
Formalization and standardisation.
Quality management control.
Most organizations have a variety of policies, rules and procedures and they help specify goals. Policies are guidelines for action, while rules and procedures are more specific. Policies, rules and procedures are written down and formalised to guide behaviour and decision making, while standardisation refers to setting limits and quality management control provides the feed back as to how far and how well the targets that were set are achieved.
Next week we will look into these controls in more detail and see how they can set managers free.

Ton Haverkort

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