Loose/tight, thoughts on management

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If you have a pad of Post-Its, a watch or a car, it’s unlikely you hired and managed a team of people to build it for you. That makes no sense. You knew exactly what you wanted, and you bought a finished product that met spec. If you do…

If you have a pad of Post-Its, a watch or a car, it's unlikely you hired and managed a team of people to build it for you. That makes no sense. You knew exactly what you wanted, and you bought a finished product that met spec.

If you do online banking, payroll or even printing, you're doing the same thing. The people at those institutions don't work directly for you, instead they provide a service at arm's length.

So why hire employees?

Sometimes, the work is so custom, we can't easily outsource it.

Sometimes, the work is so time critical or location dependent that we need a staff person here and now.

But mostly, we need the insight and judgment and leverage that employees bring us. All of us are smarter than any of us, and adding people can, if we do it right, make us smarter and faster and better at serving our customers.

It can't work, though, if you insist that the employees read your mind. If you have to spend as much time watching and measuring your team as the team spends working, then you might as well just do the work yourself.

Effective post-industrial organizations have overcome this hurdle by differentiating between the loose and the tight.

Tight control might be appropriate for items like: promises kept, or how we treat our customers, or financial rigor.

Loose principles, on the other hand, might be applied to the way people approach problems, communication methods or less standardized matters like setting and tone.

We fail if we misjudge what ought to be tight. And we guarantee frustration when we're unwilling to let the humans we hire be humans.


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