ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Saturday, March 07, 2015

An Issue of Control

An Issue of Control
ArLyne Diamond, Ph.D.

Whether Outsourcing, Managing, Teaching or Parenting – the issue of control, how much, how little, when and where to let go is one of the most critical questions plaguing the person in the position of leadership – and irking the recipient of that control. 

What are your needs to control or to be controlled.   Are you afraid of letting go?  Or do you suspect that if you let go completely you won’t get blamed if things go wrong?  Or, are you wise enough to treat the issue of control on a case-by-case – person-by-person basis?

One of my favorite little tests is the FIRO-B which measures several things including the desire to control and/or be controlled.  Obviously for each individual there are differences – and differences at different times or under different circumstances.

However, businesses must make decisions as entities and have their management implement those decisions effectively.  Let’s look at some of the areas in which these decisions have to be made – and for the fun of it – let’s include teachers and parents.


One of the major decisions facing all organizations is what to keep and what to outsource.  The experts tell us only to keep our “core competencies” and to outsource all else – but many fear that the more outsourced, the more the loss of control.

Should we do the work in-house where we have (or at least have the perception of) complete control – or knowing these products/services aren’t our core competencies, outsource them to experts accustomed to handling them?

Should we have in-house sales people or work with distributors?

What about lawyers, accountants, and other professional experts that are not needed full time?
If you are to outsource, your controls exist in the contractual relationship you establish as well as in the actual person-to-person relationships you develop.   The contract allows for litigation (or alternative dispute resolution) should things go really bad, but resorting to this is a last-resort.
Now if thinking about money as a motivator the answers are: If they are selling something for you, the obvious is to make their commission structure more worthwhile than they are receiving from others they serve.  If professional experts, or manufacturing experts, the obvious is to pay them more.
But money is only a threshold motivator. 

You need to get them to like you better than they like the others they serve.  Relationship building becomes the key answer.  You need to build rapport, trust, and a mutual desire to have win/win relationships with all the people involved from the outsourced company.  They need to put you first – before all the other companies they serve.

Control exists within the relationship – not because of an authoritarian structure.


Finding the perfect balance between micro-managing and abrogating responsibility is often quite difficult.  It’s so easy to micro-manage when you have the skills and experience to do the job you are asking others to do.  Sometimes you even get itchy fingers, dying to get in and get it done.  Sometimes even, managing takes you away from what you love doing – which is the work itself.

On the other hand, there are those who say, “you figure it out” – expecting people who don’t have that level of knowledge, understanding, or experience to find a process to accomplish something themselves.  This is being too loose – this is actually abrogating responsibility.

Then there is the quandary about how to deal with employees new to you – but having gained experience someplace else – they may even have earned more money, or have a higher title than you.  How do you manage them?  Do you just leave them alone and cross your fingers, hoping for the best?
I teach a funnel theory of management. 

At the very bottom of the funnel is tight control and at its top very loose control.  I believe that in a new management – managee relationship, control should be tight.  This is so you and the person being managed get to understand each other’s style, language, means of communicating and perception of excellence and success.  There is a learning curve that takes time to accomplish.  This is true even for the experienced employee new to your group or company.

If you start with loose control and find yourself having to tighten it, you are punishing the other person and leaving them feeling criticized and demeaned.  Whereas the opposite is true when you start to loosen control – that feels like trust, a compliment and creates good feelings and higher motivation.

Obviously, with people who are new to the work it is helpful to help them in the beginning and to watch what they are capable of achieving on their own – thus again starting with tight control and loosening it as your charge becomes more adept at not only doing the work, but also in understanding you, your values, your style of communication and the company’s needs.

Just one quick example – often new startups hire someone’s wife, sister, or friend to be “the administrator” – leaving this person to set up all systems for bookkeeping, inventory control, filing, benefits, etc.  Yes, this is an intelligent woman who is quite capable of maintaining all these activities – but is she an experienced office manager, accountant, administrator, etc., who knows how to set up the most effective processes and systems?  Probably not.  That’s where you hire someone (like me) to set everything up and train your new administrator and no doubt she will prove to be a shining star…. Instead of someone having to work twice as hard to accomplish something because of a less than ideal system/process.


Some years ago I attended a conference called “Engineering Education Unbound”.  I was the only non-engineering faculty member or dean at the conference.  This was when on-line education was just in its infancy.  The major issue at the conference – the fear – from most – almost all – of the faculty was that they would lose control if they allowed students to work at their own pace, and self-test.

Today, of course we take on-line learning for granted.  We haven’t lost control – we’ve given more responsibility to students to learn what pace works best for them.  We’ve freed up faculty time to be more responsive to the unusual, the creative, the extra-ordinary – and of course, to be available to answer student questions.  Self-testing enables students to quickly learn what they have already mastered and what additional reading or practicing they need to do.

It’s enhanced education for students and faculty.

Even in the classroom teachers can turn over pacing to the students – can give them a range of work from which to choose for earning points towards their grade – and can allow a full range of self-exploration as well as self-testing.  Think about the Montessori style of teaching for example.
Now, self-testing does not imply that students choose their own grade.  There are times whether it be at the final, or quarterly, or whenever is reasonable, that the test be a formal one, not intended as self-help.  Teacher doesn’t lose control.


As by now you have guessed, I advocate and teach a funnel theory of parenting.  Children need to learn how to make choices and take responsibility for those choices.  Thus, over-controlling creates hot-house flowers who are not successful as adults.  Abrogating responsibility often leads to children being overly-needy and/or acting out.

So, let’s start with simple choices.  Even a two year old can decide whether he wants toast or toaster waffles.   A three year old can choose between three possible outfits to wear the next day.  A five year old can be taught what type of clothing is school appropriate and can select her outfit for the next day (with some possible veto power by Mom.)

If little choices are made by little tykes, as they age they can make bigger and more important choices.   The seven year old can accompany Mom to the store and select outfits from the several selected for her by Mom.  He can also help decide what’s for dinner tonight.

Think about play-dates, or birthday parties.  If every moment is supervised by adults, children make no choices – they are like little robots going along with the plans.  What if there were general activities for them to do, but they were allowed to negotiate when those were being done and who had what role?  Look at what they could learn.

The teenager can help decide what clothing is necessary for the next school season.  Does she need a new jacket, or will the old one do so that she can use the money for more pretty tops?  Get my point.  By the funnel theory of allowing children to make decisions, little by little they learn and can make bigger and more complicated decisions – even important ones.

I grew up in The Bronx – a city kid whose mother worked.  My friends and I were loosely supervised by some of the Moms more carefully watching the younger kids.  We learned how to make the rules of the game ourselves, how to negotiate, how to deal with disagreement, different personalities and conflict.  There was no adult supervision or interference – except in the case of a major accident with a lot of blood.

Because boys and girls played together we learned how to pick our dates – and husbands – wisely.  We weren’t fooled by superficial charm.


There is a way to find the balance between too much and too little control. The lessons learned about parenting apply to teaching and managing.  These lessons also make for more positive and successful outsourcing relationships.

It takes awareness, powers of observation, and the ability to slowly test giving more freedom and responsibility.  If done properly everyone benefits.  It takes building trust, rapport, and a mutual understanding of needs/wants and values.  

It works!  Try it.

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