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Adelle Bradford

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POWER!   CONTROL!   AUTHORITY!  =  Responsibility?
by Adelle Bradford   
Rated "PG" by the Author.
Last edited: Thursday, November 30, 2006
Posted: Thursday, November 30, 2006

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Business Essay - Unpublished
From "Management From The Inside Out", by Adelle Bradford, 2001

Aren't those first three words real adrenaline rousers? Doesn't the mere contemplation of them increase the heart rate and blood pressure just a little? Aren't they the stuff of privately-held dreams and fantasies in the corporate business world? Don't they evoke visions of "sitting in the cat-bird seat", of being the supreme commander of endless willing armies, of being the magnificent source from whence all wisdom flows, of being the ultimate chess master skillfully moving his major and minor pieces throughout the business world and always winning...or any number of other grand, perspective-customized visions originating in the individual psyche?

            Come on, be honest now. No one is looking. No one can see what you're thinking. Visualize! Make a mental picture of just what those three words mean to you. Really neat, huh?  

Now think about it some more. Think about the fact that those three words are simply that…three words that in and of themselves describe a state of being, three words so semantically loaded and linked in today's world that they evoke an immediate conditioned, almost Pavlovian response of one kind or another depending on individual life experience.

  And while you're thinking, take a good look at that equal sign and the somewhat distasteful little word sitting on the other side of it, trying in its own small way to balance those big, powerful words dominating the other side of the management equation.

That's what it is, you see, the management equation, the first lesson we all were supposed to learn, comprehend, and take to heart way back in "Management 101", and that one little word, "responsibility", is the entire crux of the equation, the balancing factor. Without it, there is no balance and the equation- -or the business itself- - becomes skewed, out of control and meaningless because it is predicated on and survives only if the equation is kept in balance at all times.

This is the basic, number one, all-encompassing rule governing the fundamental technique and practice of managing a successful business of any size, form, or function.

 Now, let's briefly examine all four of those management equation words, not only as they relate to each other, but the frame of reference and the conditions under which they can become unbalanced, slowly but inexorably stopping the forward movement of the business.

  First, we have "structure", and within the business structure, there is always an actual seat of POWER and CONTROL and AUTHORITY, be it one person or a group, who have the ultimate “responsibility” for the success or failure of the business.

  We are not speaking here of small proprietorships where one or a few persons can fairly well balance the management equation by themselves. We are speaking of businesses that require many employees performing many different functions in the course of its operation, too many different functions for the owner or group of owners to perform for themselves.

Logically then, it follows that the persons with POWER, CONTROL and AUTHORITY have the further responsibility of delegating a balanced portion of all four equation factors  throughout the business structure wherever they are necessary for properly smooth, efficient function of the required operations.

Note and keep in mind: All of the four management equation attributes must be delegated in a balanced manner! It is self-defeating, confusing and disruptive to everyone concerned to delegate one or two or three of the equation attributes without including the fourth one.

Example: A small, single-owner firm manufactures shoes. A designer oversees the creation of the shoe patterns. The designer has been given the responsibility for creating patterns, he has been given the AUTHORITY to create patterns, he has been given the POWER to create patterns, but because he must take every pattern to the boss for his personal approval before any action can be taken, the designer has been given no CONTROL over the patterns. If the boss is not available or cannot decide about the suitability of the pattern, as often happens, the pattern is not approved, and unless it is approved by the boss, the designer cannot send it to the production department.

Now it is possible that the designer, understanding the effect the required pattern has on the overall operation of the business, might go ahead and simply give the unapproved pattern to the production department, and let's assume for a moment that he took that risk. It is a risk because he is, in effect, usurping some of the CONTROL reserved for the boss. In real life, not many people would deliberately put their jobs on the line in this manner.

The production department supervisor has been given the responsibility for producing shoes. He has been given the POWER to produce shoes and he has been given CONTROL over how they are produced. But if he has no approved pattern, he cannot continue to function and discharge his responsibility because he has no AUTHORITY to work from an unapproved pattern. He is now placed in a position of risking his own his job if he uses the unapproved pattern. More than likely, he would not use it. When one has a family to support, one is not usually comfortable risking one's job is a polite way of putting his dilemma.

It follows that orders cannot be filled for customers, and general chaos results. Why? Because no one has been given the entire balanced management equation required to keep the business operational whether the boss is there or not. Each department has fulfilled their responsibility insofar as possible, but the overall operational goal of the business to design, produce and sell shoes has become unobtainable.

Rightly or wrongly, each frustrated department points their finger at the others for the stoppage because, after all, haven't they each discharged their responsibility as far as their POWER, CONTROL and AUTHORITY allows them to? As the ripple effect moves outward, the customers yell at the order department, who yell at the service department, who yell at the... .

The problem: The boss has become the bottle-neck in the operation by keeping too much POWER, CONTROL and AUTHORITY> in his own hands without assuming the required responsibility that is necessary to keep the management equation balanced. Because he retains CONTROL over the patterns, it is his responsibility to see that he properly exercises it by ensuring prompt decisions about patterns. Because he retains AUTHORITY over the production department, it is his responsibility to see that approved patterns reach them in a timely manner in order to keep the production lines operating and the customers satisfied.   

He has established departments and clearly defined and delegated their areas of responsibility, but at the same time, he has prevented them from functioning beyond a defined point because he is not fulfilling his own responsibilities.

While he and he alone is directly responsible for this whole shoe business mess, you can be almost positive that he will not see the matter in this light. Human nature somehow dictates our near-inability to objectively view our own weaknesses, failures, and goof-ups, and if we do manage it, we seem to have a built-in reservoir of excuses to protect our egos from too much damage. It's downright uncomfortable and embarrassing, and it takes a certain strong kind of character to stand up and say, "Well, folks, it did seem like a good idea at the time, but it's obviously not working out and we're losing money. Got any ideas about how to help me straighten it out?"

That is a great approach to the problem, but only an approach. The problem will never be solved until the boss actually sees and understands the problem, makes a firm decision and commitment to change, and implements a new system, a new, more effective way of doing things that produces the desired this case creating, producing, and selling shoes. In other words, he must delegate all four parts of the management equation wherever needed, oversee the operation closely, make changes and adjustments where needed, and sit back and enjoy the profits. Wasn't that the whole idea in the first place?                                                                     

Of course, this is a very simple, clear and graphic example of what happens in an unbalanced management equation situation. It is factual, but admittedly most problems of this nature are not usually so clearly-defined and easy to see at a glance. In many instances, the problem is multi-layered and sometimes hidden in unexpected, carefully-protected psychological closets, and/or spread among several individuals, each adding their own particular twist to the problem as each pursues his or her own personal agenda. No one ever said this was an easy problem to resolve, and it isn't!                                                                                     
              But be careful here! Before we heap any undeserved maledictions on the head of this well-intentioned-but-misguided boss, or cast any careless aspersions about his character, we should seriously consider how slippery management techniques can be in operational situations, and how extremely difficult it is to actually visualize an entire business structure in terms of the multi-layered levels of POWER, CONTROL, AUTHORITY and "responsibility" required to keep the business operational, profitable, and humming right along like a well-tuned machine.

 If you consider it long enough and carefully enough, you will find that the whole thing more closely resembles an artichoke, with its leaves arranged in connecting circular layers around an inner core, than a tree with various departments and functions spread out like branches from low to high, with top management occupying the uppermost rarefied 'eagle's nest'....or catbird seat. While the tree analogy was once the preferred symbolism, and most corporate structure diagrams still follow that 'top to bottom' 'trickle-down' kind of visual idea, it is rapidly becoming a part of business history.

 The traditional patriarchal, paternalistic, almost feudalistic type of management is rapidly being replaced with a more open, relaxed, horizontal, laterally-inclined arrangement that emphasizes interaction, communication, cooperation and shared goals within and between departments.

In other words, management is moving away from the rigid compartmentalization of functions epitomized by the inherent "bottle-neck" dangers all-too-frequently embraced by position-protecting department heads, into a more flexible structure of shared responsibility and shared POWER, CONTROL and AUTHORITY delegated in an balanced equation manner to keep the business running smoothly and profitably.

Perhaps this shift is due, in great part, to the fairly recent influx of bright, intelligent, creative people who are bringing new perspectives, new images, and fresh ideas into the sometimes stuffy, change-resisting business world of the past. Whatever the reason, the management equation is playing an ever-increasing role in today's business world and deserves special attention, consideration, and implementation where advantageous and productive.

 That old lesson in the "Management 101" class is both important and relevant, but it does leave some questions unanswered: Who makes the decision about who needs and can properly exercise how much delegated power, control, and authority...and be fully accountable for the attendant load of responsibility that comes with it?

 And although the dreams and fantasies evoked by those three big words are tantalizing, who is really prepared to accept the heavy burden of that one little word that keeps the whole management equation in balance?


Web Site: Author Adelle Bradford Website

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