There is no control. There is only trust.

trustControl strategies don’t work, but trust strategies do.

Nothing goes as planned.  Trying to control things tightly is wasteful.  It takes too much energy to batten down all the hatches and keep them that way every-day-all-day.  Maybe no water gets in, but the crew doesn’t get enough oxygen and their brains wither.

Trust on the other hand, is flexible and far more efficient.  It takes little energy to hire a pro, give them the right task and get out of the way.  And with the best pros it requires even less energy because the three-step becomes a two-step – hire them and get out of the way.

When both hands are continuously busy pulling the levers of contingency plans there are no hands left to point toward the future.  When both arms are clinging onto the artificial schedule of the project plan there are no arms left to conduct the orchestra.  Control strategies make sure even the piccolo plays the right notes at the right time, while trust strategies let the violins adjust based on their ear and intuition and even let the conductors write their own sheet music.

Control is an illusion, but trust is real.  The best statistical analyses are rearward-looking and provide no control in a changing environment. (You can’t drive a car by looking in the rear view mirror.) Yet, that’s the state-of-the-art for control strategies – don’t change the inputs, don’t change the process and we’ll get what we got last time.  That’s not control.  That’s self-limiting.

Trust is real because people and their relationships are real.  Trust is a contract between people where one side expects hard work and good judgment and the other side expects to be challenged and to be given the flexibility to do the work as they see fit.  Trust-based systems are far more adaptable than if-then control strategies.  No control algorithm can effectively handle unanticipated changes in input conditions or unplanned drift in decision criteria, but people and their judgement can.  In fact, that’s what people are good at, and they enjoy doing it.  And that’s a great recipe for an engaged work force.

Control strategies are popular because they help us believe we have control.  And they’re ineffective for the same reason.  Trust strategies are not popular because they acknowledge we have no real control and rely on judgment.  And that’s why they’re effective.

When control strategies fail, trust strategies are implemented to save the day.  When the wheels fall off a project, the best pro in the company is brought in to fix what’s broken.   And the best pro is the most trusted pro.  And their charge – Tell us what’s wrong (Use your judgement.), tell us how you’re going to fix it (Use your best judgement for that.) and tell us what you need to fix it. (And use your best judgement for that, too.)

In the end, trust trumps control. But only after all other possibilities are exhausted.

Image credit – Dobi.

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Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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