Inside Out E-Column: Aligning Employee Engagement with Marketing Communications

Scouting for Control

As history marks time, it hasn’t been so long ago when people thought the best way to run an organization was with an iron fist.  Workers were told what to do, and control was based on unchallenged lines of authority. There was little uncertainty about performance expectations, no room for employee opinions, and any effort to ruffle the status quo was met with swift, punishing consequences. 

The limits of authority
But even way back when, authority as a source of control had its limits.  A valuable lesson for today’s workforce can be learned from a notable exception to the traditional rule of control and command that embodied that long-ago bastion of order and discipline – the U.S. Cavalry.

The “production system” in those days was pretty straightforward. The colonel was in charge, and through the chain of command, he made sure that regulations were followed and requirements were met.

For the most part, the daily work routine consisted of making the bunks, polishing the brass, cleaning the stables – and given the white man’s misguided bias at the time – getting rid of the Indians. Measuring performance and production was just as clear-cut. All the colonel had to do was inspect the barracks … look at the brass … smell the stables … and count the bodies on the battlefield.

Everything worked fine for the colonel until he was faced with a dilemma he couldn’t solve by simply exerting his authority – not knowing where the Indians were. That’s when he had to count on his trusty scout – that free-spirited guy who wore buckskins instead of uniforms, and did pretty much whatever he wanted. He just had to be ready to go when the colonel needed him to track down the Indians.

When that happened, the colonel was still in charge – no one questioned his authority – but the scout was in control. That’s because he was the only one with the information and knowledge for the production system to operate successfully.

Information as the main source of control
Fast forward about 150 years, and look at how that scenario equates to modern day management. Fact is, in today’s complex organizations, information has significantly diminished authority as the sole source of control. First of all, few folks believe in absolute management dictates anymore – certainly not the millennial workforce.

You could also make a case that most of today’s managers are more tuned in to the benefits of free-thinking employees who can make sound decisions and take appropriate initiative on their own to go beyond the boundaries of their job descriptions.

Still, you have to wonder just how far we’ve really come from the old days – and how much further we have to go to optimize employee potential. According to the annual Gallup surveys on employee engagement, only 30% of employees are actively engaged, about 20% are actively disengaged, and the other 50% are somewhere in between. Gallup attributes most of that shabby state-of-affairs to bad management.

Make scouting part of everyone’s job description
So managers need to listen up. If you want to take a big leap forward in boosting engagement and getting team members emotionally invested in the company’s success, here are some guidelines to follow:

  1. Encourage and support everyone on your team to operate as “scouts,” always on the lookout for the trail to systematic continuous improvement.

  2. Set up routine processes for listening sincerely and substantively to the “scouting reports” you get from everyone on your team.

  3. Explain the decisions you make so your team knows you are taking their input seriously and not dismissing them without consideration.

We can’t turn back the clock and erase the tragedy of what was done to Native Americans, and we will never recover what’s been lost from the crushing effects of traditional command and control that diminished the value of workers in decades past.

We can, however, take a stand for a more promising and prosperous future – one that promotes human dignity, unleashes employee potential, and honors the extraordinary contributions that every individual is willing and able to make.

Watch this video to learn more about our approach to Systematic Continuous Improvement.

For more information or to request an appointment with Les Landes,  send us an e-mail or call us today at 314-664-6497. 

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