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Letting Go of Control Can Empower Your Workers

by Donald A. Phin, Esq. - President, Employer Advisors Network, Inc. on 12/31/2003
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For most of the 20th century, "scientific management" drove a command-and-control theory of workplace management. Management told employees exactly what to do and punished them when they failed to do it. In essence, they treated people like machines.

The control paradigm made a significant impact on management. For example, we define workers as employees or independent contractors (and employees as exempt or non-exempt), depending largely on how much control we exert over them or they exert over others.

But this paradigm is rapidly becoming passé. For instance, try using control to motivate a software programmer! The explosive growth of the knowledge economy during the past two decades is rapidly converting even rank-and-file blue-collar employees into knowledge workers - and knowledge can't be controlled. It can only be enhanced, unleashed, and managed to empower employees.

Today's workers aren't loyal to their employers, but to their teams, careers, and families. Many companies realize that the best they can do is to keep talented people for three or four years before they naturally move on. These businesses have created a system that acknowledges today's new reality - not one that fights against it. They do whatever they can to help their employees do the best job they can to benefit themselves - and the company in the process.

The shift from "command and control" to "employee empowerment" will be the management issue of the 21st century. Companies that ask themselves, "How can we give up control to empower our workers and remain sustainable?" are the ones that will succeed.

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