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The illusion of control

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When I recently attended a workshop on the topic of ‘Employee Experience’ for managers by chance, a question came up that concerns many entrepreneurs: How do I create involvement and participation in my organization and when is the right time for it? This was also about the supposed lack of an overarching strategy for agile working methods1, lengthy decision-making processes and little constructive feedback from stakeholders and employees. However, one participant’s question particularly stuck with me:

“When should they be involved in order to have control that there will be no Shitstorm?”

As the “other end of the corporate hierarchy”, this question rubbed me the wrong way. Admittedly, I myself did not have to make any far-reaching decisions for companies. However, after several years in different corporate constellations and through many insights into other corporate structures, I can say one thing with certainty:

The attempt to control the opinion of the workforce by strategically withholding information cannot be successful. In fact: it is counterproductive!

I’ve seen executives withhold information – until decisions about personnel, strategy or technology were made, or to keep polarizing decisions and mistakes away from the office grapevine until it could not be hidden anymore. The reactions of the workforce were almost always the same: a feeling of being deceived and left out and a strong resistance to the actions of the management. Just what was intended to be prevented by withholding information and poison for a positive employee experience.

When adults are treated like children

The problem is the desire for control and the fear of losing it. By controlling the flow of information, an attempt is made to paint a positive picture and keep employees happy. But what it suggests is: “You are not smart enough to understand our reasons, so we are not interested in your opinion. The lack of information on the part of the management leads to decision-making processes becoming a black box in which decisions cannot really be understood and are therefore not shouldered by the staff.

Adults are treated like underage, disruptive children whose opinions are neither helpful nor relevant. Differing opinions or criticism are simultaneously seen as a ‘fight against the company’. For friends of Eric Berne’s Transactional Model, this is a typical communication between the critical parent (management) and the child (staff), who reacts to this communication with defiant, rebellious behavior.

Intransparency creates mistrust

What is not seen is how the lack of trust in the employees and the lack of integration of these employees into company processes creates such a culture of distrust. Yet it is precisely this culture of distrust that creates resistance to management. The underlying fear of the management of a negative backlash, however, also places a great responsibility on their shoulders: they are supposed to do everything ‘right’ as the eye of the needle of all decisions. Right from the start. It is sometimes impossible for them to put themselves completely in the position of those affected or even to have an overview of everything in the company. In order to solve this problem, the opinions of those affected must be obtained at an early stage in the interests of agility. This requires concrete communication processes and a culture of mutual trust and respect. And also the courage to endure criticism and admit mistakes. However, this is to prevent ‘shit storms’ and thus unhappy employees, not to control the opinions of the workforce. Because that is an illusion.


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

  1. Gabri and Tim wrote a great series of articles about the misunderstanding of agility, see Misunderstanding ‘Agility’ Part I and Part II

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