How Do You Go About Getting People at Work to Do Things You Want Them to Do? Part 1 – Day 97

Wednesday 21:33, Old Bethnal Green Road, London

No, this is not an entry for the next edition of Carniege’s self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People. Rather, it’s my attempt to make up for being rubbish at blogging last month and to share my thoughts and insights on what I’ve been reading for the last six weeks.

I intend this to be a four-part series on the issue of control. I hope I’m not over-promising here; there’s just so much to say about this topic.

No matter who you are or where you’re working (or not working), you’re either under someone else’s control or you’re controlling someone else. Maybe not all the time, but it’s definitely there. Even the old lady in front of you in the queue at Tesco’s is exerting a degree of control over you in the form of creating dependency.

Control between humans is as old as, well being human, I think, so roughly 2 million years. And whilst I’m making wild assumptions about the evolution of behavioural psychology I may go as far as claiming that technically control is something that pre-dates being human and is most likely something that evolved when we were still prokaryotes or something similarly ancient.

Today’s entry is about control through direct supervision. This form of control is pretty straightforward as it’s really about getting people at work to do what you want them to do by just being there physically. The MBA at the OU is steeply geared towards combining academic rigour with practical managerial relevance, meaning that we are incessantly asked to think about every concept, theory and model through the perspective of our own work situation.

This has lead to some interesting discoveries.

As an employee, I feel that I’m hardly ever under control through direct supervision. Sure, my line manager does his usual walkabout but I think this is merely to say hello and see how things are going on my side of the office (we don’t have an open plan office). He also comes to have a look at the whiteboard which has the sales team’s revenue commitments and actual sales. Oh, hang on! This is control through direct supervision. Does it make me crack the proverbial whip and get my team into action? Nope. I normally just stop what I’m doing and have a chat. At my previous company, [redacted information], an important stakeholder was once visiting the offices and we were told to ‘look busy’ and make sure our teams were ‘not on breaks’. Funny stuff, eh?

I guess that direct control through supervision is like being at school, when other pupils (never me, of course!) only did what the teachers wanted them to do while being directly supervised, and stopped the moment the teachers’ attention went elsewhere. In Swedish this is called ögontjänare, which oddly translates to ‘eye-servant’, but I guess it kind of makes sense to us Swedes. Direct control through supervision is also a little like doing a group class at the gym or having a personal trainer. While you may working your butt off when the instructor is shouting directly at you, do you work equally hard when they have moved their attention to another poor soul? Hmmm… it’s quite likely the answer to that question is ‘no’.

Anyway, back to work. What about direct control through supervision in my role as a team leader? Well, I sit with my team and I see myself as being very much a part of the team as well. By sitting in the midst of them all I see and hear everything and it’s not rare that I discover things I like my team not to do or to do more of. One of my preferred ways of control through direct supervision is to travel with my team, either by attending conferences or being on the road with them. It’s a great way of seeing individuals in action and I use it as a tool for reflection and development.

They say that humour in the work place is often about things that affects us most. Let’s see if you can figure out what this one was about:

December 12th was Christmas Jumper Day here in the UK. The charity Save the Children were running their clever campaign ‘Make the world better with a sweater’ and most of us at FSG donned funny, crazy, ugly or plain ridiculous Christmas jumpers. I picked up a blue college jumper featuring a snowman, complete with a carrot nose, straw arms, a pipe (eh!?) and three bells. Yes, real bells that jingled as I moved about the office.

‘We were just saying that we thought you could wear that jumper all the time’ one of my direct reports said. ‘We can hear you walking around the office, so know when you are close’ he joked.

An innocent joke? Does my team relax more when I’m not physically there? Or does my omnipotent presence fuel my team into a frenzy of activity every time I manage to sit down at my desk in between meetings? Or is it the anticipation of my presence that drives productivity?

Lots of questions and not any real answers, but this last questions leads me on to the next form of control…

Come back tomorrow for more from The Executive Kitchen!

Direct supervision

One thought on “How Do You Go About Getting People at Work to Do Things You Want Them to Do? Part 1 – Day 97

  1. i like how you have picked out something that you may not have even thought about as being controlling but upon reflection shows that it is a form of control, and then makes you think even more that now that you realise it is a form of control, will that affect your behaviour towards your team in any way to test how that control works 🙂 some ramblings from me


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