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Trust and Inspire? Or Command and Control?



Is your organization a Command and Control organization, or a Trust and Inspire organization? Unfortunately, many leaders believe they’re practicing Trust and Inspire, when in actuality, they’re practicing Command and Control. How do we know the difference?


First let’s look at how we developed a Command and Control structure in the first place.

Command and Control culture has led businesses since the 1950s, and it’s thoroughly ingrained in our culture at this point. When the veterans returned from WWII, many of the commanders became leaders of organizations, and applied what they learned in the military to running a business. It was highly successful for decades. However in the 70s and 80s, other countries, especially Japan, began surpassing the US in business success. This is partially due to their culture, but also due to their implementation of the ideas and teaching of Edwards Deming decades before.


Deming proposed that all business processes should be analyzed and quantified. In the US, the status quo was to inspect products for flaws only after they’d been made; Deming proposed quality checks during the manufacturing process to ensure a quality product from the start.


Everything these companies who followed Deming’s ideas did was focused around their why—which was to have high-quality products. Our quality processes in the automotive industry in the 70s and 80s were focused around our command and control structure; instead of focusing on their why, they simply did what they were told, not really understanding the why behind it.


Japan started slow instead of rushing the process, and eventually dominated the automotive industry. Deming’s quality-control method produced predictable results, based on a predictable process. In fact, when a Toyota or Nissan or any of the Asia-based car companies have a problem, it’s a surprise because they’ve established a culture that relies on highly predictable processes.


The US still mainly follows the Command and Control method, which doesn’t rely on processes, but instead relies on telling someone what to do, but not why, which is something I call the Tell-Trust-Fail cycle.  When a team member fails in that cycle, it brings about shame, which can either lead to a process of rehabilitation or watching them go through the cycle all over again.


I had interesting conversations with two organizations recently. They’re both trying to move their organizations into a Trust and Inspire culture. They each had an AHA moment after reading about the EDGE Method. They were using that process, but only after a team member experienced failure, not before—much like the US auto industry only addressed product flaws after production instead of during.


They realized they were implementing EDGE after failure in an attempt to help them get back on track, but in the course of our conversation, realized that implementing it from the beginning would prevent those issues from cropping up at all.


One of the leaders in those groups told me that the EDGE Method was similar to their PIP process, personal improvement plan (PIP). When they bring someone in because they’re failing, they basically implement the EDGE Method.


Many times we know what EDGE is, but it’s being used as a tool of reconciliation and restoration instead of being used as a tool to protect and prevent shame.


This process could destroy the “Peter Principle,” where your competency causes you to be promoted and promoted until you reach a place where you’re incompetent. Promoting people into incompetency (the Peter Principle) is used to shame people all the time: “You were such a rockstar in your previous position, what happened?” Even though the person in question is not the one to blame, but rather the person who promoted them into incompetency, promoting without training them.


The comic strip Dilbert is an excellent example of a command and control environment, and also the Peter Principle. The pointy-haired boss was promoted even though he had no competency in IT. The Office is also a great example of that. In The Office, shame is the primary motivator for everyone. The manager tries to shame the team to get them to do what he wants, the team are always trying to shame him for being the way he is, while the manager is always trying to gain the approval of the people above him who are treating him the way he treats his employees, thus perpetuating the cycle.


Businesses using the EDGE Method began to pull forward by moving from focusing on the what, to the how. Companies aspiring to transition from a Command and Control structure to a Trust and Inspire structure have to first understand HOW to train their team members.


For years, they’ve followed the Tell-Trust-Fail method. They give the team members a checklist, they trust them to carry out the checklist with no understanding of WHY there is a checklist, and ultimately, no matter how good that team member is, they fail. They fail due to one thing, and it’s going to be the topic of our next blog: the normalization of deviance.

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