This chapter of my 1980 paper on the planning task in organizations looks at the issue of control. The question here is to what extent – if at all – the view of organizational dynamics embodied in the paper reflects that contained in Informal Coalitions. And, if so, what inferences we might draw from it in relation to the 'parallel' task of facilitating organizational change (see Footnote).
This chapter repeated one of the primary themes of the original paper; that is, that planning and control are the responsibility of line managers, not of the planner. In this respect, as reflected in extracts from the paper in earlier posts, it echoes the point made in the book that change leadership is a line management task.
However, when looking at an organization as a complex social process, the issue of control is seen to be paradoxical. That is, managers are both ‘in control’ and ‘not in control’ at the same time. In Informal Coalitions, I call this “the leadership paradox”. Philip Streatfield describes this same notion as “the paradox of control”, in his book of the same title. So, when the original paper talks of managers as being in control of the organization’s resources, this is only partially the case.
- Extract #23 – Acknowledging the fundamental role of perception, interpretation and evaluation in the emergence of organizational outcomes.
“For the information yielded by controls to become grounds for action, a ‘translation’ is required. The manager’s perception of the control information is ultimately the device which gives meaning to the information and which provides the basis for controlling activities in ways which are consistent with his (sic) expectations of the future.”
Although this extract recognizes the pivotal role of perception, interpretation and evaluation in the meaning-making process, there is an implicit assumption in the paper that this process stops at the manager. Today I would say that everyone is involved in the sense-making and action-taking process through which outcomes emerge, not just managers. Power differences will be significant, of course. And the potential to influence outcomes will vary widely. Nevertheless, what might seem to be clear instructions issued by managers, or straightforward control information produced by management information systems, are always viewed and acted upon in the specific circumstances and from the specific viewpoint of specific people at a specific time. So, the transition from intention to action is always mediated by this situation-specific process of perception, interpretation and evaluation.
- Extract #24 – Facilitating performance - not policing compliance with the plan.
“The tendency to include the measurement and reporting of performance as part of the planner’s task is perhaps based on a misconception about the purpose of management controls. Several writers state that the aim of control is to assume that results of operations conform as closely as possible to plans. This is certainly the case when considering a mechanistic system, such as the control of the electrical load on a turbo-generator …[but] this idea of control is essentially inconsistent with that used in this study … Anthony (Planning and Control Systems: A Framework for Analysis, 1965) observes that top management require middle management to react to the events that actually occur, not to those that might have occurred had the real world been kind enough to conform to the planning assumptions.”
I’ve repeated Anthony’s point many times over the years; although I would now say “anticipate and respond”, rather than simply “react”. Also, the earlier comment about the original paper talking of decision-making as it was solely a task of management, applies equally here.
The next two chapters of the paper look at the implications of uncertainty and complexity for the planning task. These dynamics are fundamental to the informal coalitions perspective. But the paper pre-dated by many years my interest in (or even awareness of) organizational complexity in the 'complex social process' sense. So I'm intrigued to see how I interpreted these concepts in 1980 and whether or not the inferences I drew at that time have any resonance today.
This is one of a series of posts that draws extracts from a 1980 paper on the nature of the specialist planning task in organizations. The challenge is to see if and how this might relate to the view of organizational dynamics that is embodied in informal coalitions. More of the background can be found in the initial, context-setting post: Re-membering the past – The seeds of informal coalitions? Extract numbers follow on from those in earlier posts in the series.
Earlier posts in the series include: