You Can Get Control by Giving It Up

By Mike Elgan Print this article Print
Giving Employees Control

Giving up control is probably the best way to develop more competent employees and happier customers. And those outcomes add up to professional success for you.

The best kind of innovation takes the need for user control into consideration. Think about Google's Nest Learning Thermostat. The key user benefit is that the temperature automatically changes without user input.

However, while a little control is taken away, a lot of control is given back in other ways. For example, anyone can adjust the temperature at any time, either on the device or via the app. Plus, the app provides energy usage metrics, so users have a feeling of even more control.

How to Make Sure Employees Feel in Control  

Knowing that everyone needs to feel in control isn't enough. You've got to act on that knowledge.

As a manager, you can make sure every staff member holds dominion over their work and has ownership of their projects. Let them do things their way. Outline success metrics, turn them loose on the project and let go. Then give employees credit for their successes.

Words matter. Refer to projects as "your project." Instead of asking, "How did you approach that problem," ask, "How did you decide to approach that problem." Always emphasize that the choices employees are making are theirs to make.

When designing products, services, media and other output, always think about whether you're giving the audience a sense of control—or taking it away. Always give users and customers as much control as possible.

Making products smart, easy and automated is a good approach, but keep in mind that these attributes can overwhelm and frustrate customers who feel they are losing control.

Above all, be aware of your own desire to maintain control. If you understand that the need to feel in control is a natural, but often counterproductive, impulse, it can help you make better decisions.

Whenever you're about to do something that could be delegated, or feel the need to micromanage, or want to make decisions for employees, partners or customers, always ask yourself if that action is based on your own desire for control. Consider what you want the eventual or long-term outcome to be, and whether giving up some control might help you achieve that outcome.

Think about the big picture. For example, when you want to micromanage an employee because you're certain they'll fail—or won't do as good a job as you could—think about what you really want. You want that employee to learn how to be someone you can rely on to operate autonomously. It's likely that the only way the person will achieve that goal is to let them fail a few times.

The need for control is human nature. By understanding this impulse in yourself and others, you can make better choices.

Giving up your own control is probably the best way to develop more competent employees and happier customers. Those outcomes add up to professional success for you. They let you gain control of the big things by letting go of the little things.

This article was originally published on 2016-10-03

Mike Elgan, a Baseline contributor, is a Silicon Valley-based columnist, writer, speaker and blogger. http://elgan.com/

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