Management Articles


Direction, Control and Political Correctness

By: Robert H. Kent, Ph.D., CMC

President of The Mansis Development Corporation, Dr. Kent is a specialist in the structure and management of small and medium-sized organizations, and frequently serves as a personal coach and management consultant to executives for solving their management and employee performance problems. Before founding his consulting company, Bob held senior management and executive positions in federal and provincial government and private corporations. He has been a director of several health care and service organizations and a consulting member of private and government task forces in the areas of government finance, organization structure, personnel management and executive development. Since 1972 he has lectured in management at several Canadian and American universities in the faculties of Management, Administrative Studies, Medicine and Continuing Education where he has been an award winner for excellence in teaching and professional expertise; and he has published over 125 books and articles on management.

During the 1980's there seemed to be an irrational response by some management writers to the mis-management of large bureaucracies, by recommending the elimination of job descriptions and even written performance goals. In the opinion of some, specific direction to employees started to become bad management practice, and was grouped with "command and control" as politically incorrect.

Today it is hard to find contemporary management writers who do not dismiss "command and control" out of hand, as a flawed paradigm of the past. Yet rarely is "command and control" ever defined.

If command and control is supposed to be a form of authoritarianism - brow-beating and demoralizing employees, that style was never acceptable nor taught in any management program I can find. To claim that it was an accepted paradigm of the past is false.

However, if command means ensuring clear direction and control means ensuring plans are successful, the political incorrectness of command and control is curious, if not ridiculous. The case against command and control is more often a "straw man" argument designed to enhance some researcher's new theory as a dramatic "paradigm-shift!"

Control should not be interpreted to mean intimidation or wielding a big stick. Control is clear direction(making sure everyone knows his or her responsibilities), accurate feedback (making sure you know what's going on) motivation (making sure your people are motivated to perform what you expect them to), and enforced standards (making sure the job gets done as expected).

Often there is a wide gap between policy enunciated at the executive level and what actually happens throughout the rest of the organization. Filters such as fears, perceptions, organizational levels and personal, political motives remove or distort information going to and from the executive suite.

Control means ensuring that clear direction takes place from the policy maker through to all the members of the organization and that accurate feedback flows from the bottom to the top so that senior management know what is actually happening in the organization.

But clear direction will not work unless you are also motivating your employees to do what you want them to do. Directed motivation is only possible through ensuring consistency in management practices throughout your organization. Directed motivation means accountability for performance by everyone so that good work really counts. And directed motivation means developing the confidence, trust, and self-esteem of the work-force.

Equally important, control requires that achievable performance standards are enforced at every level in the organization, without destroying motivation.

But the crux of control is to make clear direction, accurate feedback, directed motivation and enforced standards a permanent part of your organization's culture -- systematized into your day-to-day operations.

Unfortunately, the appreciation of the fundamental need for direction and control varies in all organizations. Some organizations benefit from understanding and using direction and control as necessary processes for their success. Other organizations misunderstand and then either misuse or abandon these essential activities.

© Copyright 2001 The Mansis Development Corporation

Other Articles by Robert H. Kent, Ph.D., CMC

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