Sunday, 18 August 2013

Control in an age of empowerment by Robert Simons

This classic article was originally published in Harvard Business Review in 1995, but is relevant even today .While it is a fashion to talk about empowering the employees in an organization , the top management often chooses to exercise more and more control on the decision making .The two- control and empowerment- - are thus opposed to each other.In India,in public sector and government , there is a tendency towards ever increasing control, thereby resulting in less and less empowerment of the employees at different levels.This often suits the employees as well .In the era of hyperactive Auditors and Courts (through Public Interest Litigation),employees too,of late, prefer less and less powers of decision-making , so that the accountability for decisions and actions lies at the senior levels.This results in control-oriented ,dis-empowering system of management and governance .The ultimate sufferer is an ordinary member of public , who has to wait in-ordinately long, with little accessibility to actual decision makers.It certainly results in poor, corrupt and inefficient  governance.
                                    What is the solution?Does it mean that the employees are given more powers, with very little control at the top.Robert Simons answers this question very precisely and with great clarity.He takes a position that we need to harness every employee's creativity by empowering him or her .But it should be done carefully  with four levers of control, given below.
1.Diagnostic control systems  which define and monitor critical performance variables, with preset goals.
2.Clearly articulated belief and value systems.
3.Boundary systems  defining code of conduct and minimum ethical standards.(The rules of the game)
4.Interactive control systems by organizational dialogue to encourage learning.
                                 The balancing of empowerment and control is clearly the responsibility of the top management .In the government ,both at the centre and in the states , this responsibility lies with the senior civil servants and the ministers .How far they want to do it , and if they want to do it , how far they succeed in achieving this balance , defines , to some extent , the quality of governance .India, alas , is far away from the ideal level of balance.


  1. Interesting article, Control and administration in combo is normally practiced in most of the work environments. Generally, control oriented organization with less of empowerment of employees hinder creativity and innovation.

    In case, the organizations emphasize on a culture of innovation that requires participation of all stakeholders as well as users cohesively in a system of an enterprise for exchange of ideas as well as work execution processes.

    Generally, development does not happen in silos. Adequate motivation, coordination and encouragement to ideas from all sources with minimal control is necessitated for a better quality of governance as well as project execution.....

  2. Thank you .The whole issue is how much control is minimal but essential.No control with total freedom for creativity can expose the organization to very high risks , and at times collapse .So , minimal control is as essential as freedom and creativity.I agree that excessive control can be stifling.
    . . .vidyanand.

  3. Very valid points Vidyanand ji, totally in agreement....

  4. Sir , you are very much correct. Officers at middle level don't control or supervise the subordinates . They only enjoy AC , AC vehicles , Internet , govt resource for personal work and comforts. Core group concept is just empowering the subordinates , that is great idea sir .

  5. I believe , continuous exposure to right kind of training at different levels could improve the situation .Thank you for saying that core group is a great idea.I agree with you.

  6. very enlightening piece for reading. Thanks

  7. Thank you for your encouraging comment