The Reality of Control

I wrote a short post last week about the myth of control and while it is a myth to some, for others it’s very real, and they will not be convinced otherwise.  As a result, we still have to deal with people like that in this world – people who believe they can and should control circumstances and other people.

Years ago, I was among the leaders of a team charged with revising a crisis communication plan for a Fortune 100 global  company.  At the time its crisis plan was written, years earlier, customers or passersby were not instantly uploading content to YouTube or to their blog.   Of course in today’s world, video of a crisis in progress can spread virally across platforms and be seen by millions of people while the company is still trying to make sense of what happened.  As you might imagine, this can tend to compromise any company’s ability to “control the message. ”

Our client understood that its bureaucracy was slower than even the most common consumer technology.  Under its existing  protocols for approvals, it was taking 6-8 hours to release a simple statement about an incident.  (When you have a culture of control, you also have people who fear for their jobs for making the wrong move). Without everyone signing off on everything, the organization was left temporarily paralyzed.

So the obvious way to speed up response time is to give the talented people on the ground  the authority to act in the early hours of  a crisis.  However, this would mean asking corporate to give up “control.”  Of course if we presented it that way, they would have kicked us out of the building.  This is where the importance of framing comes into play.

So our plan did not prescribe corporate to “give up” control, just to change where and how they exercised it.  We set clear goals, increased and enhanced the training program, and took their already talented group of employees to the next level of proficiency when it came to managing the early hours of a crisis.   Not unlike the military’s use of Commander’s Intent.

Getting corporate executives to agree to this was a tall order, but as hard as it was to convince the leadership, the employees were exponentially tougher.  Remember what I said about a culture of “control and fear.”  The employees  didn’t trust for a minute that they were being empowered to make these kinds of decisions without the prospect of being punished or fired in the event they made a mistake.  That bit of convincing took a great deal longer.  That’s the reality of control.

Category : Leadership

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About the Author: Leo Bottary

Leo J. Bottary is an adjunct professor for two of Seton Hall University's graduate level programs in strategic communication and leadership.  Leo has enjoyed a 25-year career counseling leaders in the areas of strategic comm…

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