Sometimes organizations or their leaders confront problems over which they have little control. For instance, a manager might want a supplier offshore to deliver something right after an important national holiday. Even if the supplier agrees, the holiday might cause delays, because some employees might take extra days off. To acknowledge this risk is to accept the larger reality of the limits of the manager's control. The manager cannot control the behavior of the supplier's employees.
Recognizing these limits can be difficult, because organizational leaders have day-to-day experiences that demonstrate their substantial power. Those experiences can obscure the reality of limited power, causing those leaders to make decisions that defy reality.
Reality does constrain even those with organizational power. Here are some of the forces of reality that we simply must accept.
- Physical law
- Leaders sometimes create expectations or make demands that cause the led to attempt to violate laws of Nature. For instance, in 1979, American Airlines Flight 191 crashed on takeoff as a result, in part, of engine strut failure due to stress cracks created by using an unapproved maintenance procedure. 271 people died.
- Those who create environments that encourage people unknowingly to try to circumvent physical law could be setting themselves up for higher turnover, degraded morale, ridicule, or criminal prosecution.
- Societal and cultural norms
- Requiring work schedules that conflict with holidays, major sporting events or other observances, whether or not they have legal status, can cause staff to conceal their absences, or worse, to report for work distracted, exhausted, or otherwise impaired.
- The cultural constraints of our societies are far more influential than anything the organization might try to assert.
- Limits of human performance
- From time to time, managers require substandard working conditions, work hours in excess of the norm, or suspension of vacation allowances. As short-term measures, they might be understandable and endurable. But when they become standard requirements of the job,The cultural constraints of our
societies are far more influential
than anything the organization
might try to assert work quality degrades, rework rates increase, and turnover becomes inevitable.
- In most cases, requiring inhuman conditions or excessive hours as a way of reducing costs or circumventing regulations is shortsighted. These practices are toxic to the organization and cause the most capable people to leave.
- Economic forces
- If working conditions are below the norm, or compensation is below the norm, the quality of the work force eventually declines below the norm.
- The cost of managing an inferior work force is usually higher than the norm. Leaders get to choose: spend money on the work force and working conditions, or spend money dealing with a resistive workforce, higher turnover and output quality issues. You can't minimize the costs of both.
Dealing with the world as it is, rather than the world as we would have it be, is the easiest path to success. On what path is your organization? Top Next Issue
Are your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenHoWzUJVeioCfozEIner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Enjoy Your Commute
- You probably commute to work. On a good day, you spend anywhere from ten minutes to an hour or two —
each way — commuting. What kind of experience are you having? Taking control of this part of your
life can make a real difference.
- Getting Around Hawthorne
- The Hawthorne Effect appears when we measure employee attitudes or behavior — when people know
they're being measured, they modify their behavior. How can we measure attitudes with a minimum of distortion
from the Hawthorne Effect?
- One Cost of Split Assignments
- Sometimes management practices have unintended consequences. To reduce costs, we keep staff ranks thin,
but that leads to split assignments for those with rare skills. Here's one way split assignments can
lead to higher costs.
- Wacky Words of Wisdom: II
- Words of wisdom are so often helpful that many of them have solidified into easily remembered capsules.
And that's where the trouble begins. We remember them too easily and we apply them too liberally. Here's
Part II of a collection of often-misapplied words of wisdom.
- Holding Back: II
- Members of high-performing teams rarely hold back effort. But truly high performance is rare in teams.
Here is Part II of our exploration of mechanisms that account for team members' holding back effort
they could contribute.
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 7: Toxic Disrupters: Tactics
- Some people tend to disrupt meetings. Their motives vary, but they use techniques drawn from a limited collection. Examples: they violate norms, demand attention, mess with the agenda, and sow distrust. Response begins with recognizing their tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 7.
- And on June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenHoWzUJVeioCfozEIner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info