10th March, 2011

Standing in the way of control

I have a secret.  I’m a bit of a control freak.  I used to say it coyly, with a smile on my face – “can I just look at that email before you send it out? Gosh I’m such a control freak” – as if this passive-aggressive excuse would somehow exonerate my bad behaviour.  Then a well respected employee pointed this out to me and said it wasn’t very helpful.  And ever since then I’ve tried my best to keep it in check.  Why?

  1. It is totally demotivating to your team to think you don’t trust them to do the job you hired them for.
  2. When on earth are you going to get time to do your own job if you keep sticking your nose where it’s not needed/wanted?

It seems to me that there are two types of control freakery.  Firstly, there are those who need to control the actions of others, and those who decide to do everything themselves because no-one will be able to do it as well as them.  A lack of trust is at the heart of both.

One of the most shocking examples of control-freakery I ever heard was a Director who told their manager how to greet their employees in the morning, and another who insisted in being copied in on every email an employee sent.  We could fill reams of paper with stories I’m sure.

So what can you do if you are a control freak or being managed by one?

If you are a control freak:
  1. What’s really going on here?  Is there someone who is not doing their job effectively?  If so, manage that through a proper performance management procedure.
  2. If they are just not doing it your way, stop and consider if they really need to.  So maybe that email isn’t worded in your writing style.  So what?  Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things?  Chances are their style brings something that yours lacked anyhow.   There are a few jobs that require identical precision, but even brain surgeons have their own way of doing things (or so I hear on Greys Anatomy).
  3. Set objectives and put in place the values you want your team to execute their job by; then let them get on with it.  Use your supervision systems to ask how they’re getting on and reassure them that you’re here for help if they need it.
  4. Ask for feedback.  Ask your team, individually, if they feel supported and trusted.  Then listen. Apologise and agree a way forward if they express any concern.


If you are managed by a control freak:
  1. Build a trusting relationship and talk to your manager.  Ask if they have any concerns about your work.  Address them if they do.  If they don’t, say that you need some more freedom to do your job in your way and ask how they’d feel about that.  Reassure the control freak that you’ll ask for help if you need it.  And give them regular updates to tell them how things are going.
  2. If that doesn’t work and your control freak is making your working life miserable, it may be that it’s time to open the job pages and find the empowering manager who’ll let you do your job in your own effective way?


So, control freaks, beware of the impact of your bad behaviour.  But if you’re dismissing this post because an employee has serious failings, you absolutely must tackle that head-on through performance management.  Under performing is a very different thing to not doing it your way.

Join the debate.  I’d love to hear how you manage to keep your control-freakery at bay or if you’ve ever managed to persuade a control-freak to change their ways.

And now I’m off to show my husband how to properly chop onions so he doesn’t ruin that sauce … D’OH!


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