Command & Control is Out!

CCI am currently working for a client with a prevalent command and control approach to change. This is understandable as the client is a military establishment and command and control is embedded into the fabric of the organisation.

It is an interesting conversation when discussing a project management approach to a change and the need to incorporate organisational change management within that project, to be asked “Why do we need organisational change – we are the military – just get someone senior to order everyone to do it”.

This post attempts to answer that question.

But before I explore that, I must mention that the client is approaching their project in a collaborative fashion but the underlying command and control culture prevails.

It is not just the military that have a command and control approach. It is still the prevalent management style in many organisations. Many managers have themselves been led via a command and control approach and therefore they in turn do the same. Command and control becomes the organisational culture.

I accept that there are times that a command and control approach is needed such as during military operations. But within the general organisational context, the approach will not achieve desired outcomes.

Command and control ignores the people side of change such as the emotional response and the need for continual and consistent channels of communication.

When developing and implementing a change, there needs to the ability to make real-time alterations as external conditions and environments change. The end-state originally planned may need to vary to take account of these changes. A command and control approach does not actively facilitate and encourage feedback from those closest to the end state and the changing environment – employees at a local level. It’s congruent with the statement that the people who know what the customer wants best is the Service Desk who talk to them on a daily basis.

Some feedback may be received by the leaders but it will be without knowledge of the bigger picture. Command and control does not furnish employees with knowledge about the reason for the change, the organisational drivers and alignment with organisational strategy. In order to provide effective feedback employees need to understand the bigger picture and the impact it has on their local environment. A command and control leader will invariably set the end state and drive to that goal regardless of the changing environment.

Command and control does not encourage employee engagement and participation in order to foster commitment to the change. In fact it promotes resistance to change. Employees do not feel part of the change and will feel that it just being imposed on them without any involvement or consultation.

Change under command and control leadership is ultimately the decision of a single-person and reliant on their view of the world. The success or failure of the change is the result of the decision of one person and their knowledge, skills and capability. Successful change requires input and participation from the entire organisation in one form or another. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Successful organisational change requires identification of change champions and leaders across the organisation. In a command and control environment, leadership is limited to a few and the rest of the employees follow the commands delivered from on high.

There has been much written about how to bring about successful organisational change and I think most managers realise that command and control isn’t the optimal approach but struggle to find the alternative.

They would most likely acknowledge that people don’t like command and control; employees have more pertinent information in relation to the change than their management; and there just isn’t time anymore to apply a micro-management approach such as command and control.

As Paul Plotczyk and Suzanne Murphy wrote in a WSA article, “leaders who adopt an engagement approach realise a simple truth: when people are engaged, they create the conditions for success:

  • They work hard
  • They boost their dedication and discretionary efforts
  • They take ownership and invest their intellectual capital in contributing bright ideas
  • They develop a common purpose and become invested in the success of the organisation”

So leaders who still have command and control in their management repertoire need to remove it if they want to drive organisational success.

Despite the arguments in this post so far – think about how you would manage Gen X with their informal orientation and interest in being heard and Gen Y with their self-confidence and focus on personal relationships – through a command and control approach. Good luck with that one!

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