Self Control through measurement at work

The greatest advantage of management by objectives is perhaps that it makes it possible for a manager to control his own performance. Self control means stronger motivation: a desire to do the best rather than just enough to get by. It means higher performance goals and broader vision. Even if management by objectives were not necessary to give the enterprise the unity of direction and effort of a management team, it would be necessary to make possible management be self control.

In this article we are deliberating on “control” and “measurements.” For “control” is an ambiguous word. It means the ability to direct oneself and one’s work. It can also mean domination of one person by another. Objectives are the basis of “control” in the first sense; but they must never become the basis of ‘control’ in the second, for this would defeat their purpose. Indeed, one of the major contributions of management by objectives is that it enables us to substitute management by self-control for management by domination.

That management by self-control is highly desirable will hardly be disputed in America or in American business today. Its acceptance underlies all the talk of ‘pushing decisions down to the lowest possible level,’ or of ‘paying people for results.’ But to make management by self control a reality requires more than acceptance of the concept as right and desirable. It requires new tools and far reaching changes in traditional thinking and practices.

To be able to control his own performance a manager needs to know more than what his goals are He must be able to measure his performance and results against the goal. It should indeed be an invariable practice to supply managers with clear and common measurements in all key areas of a business. These measurements need not be rigidly quantitative; nor need they be exact. But they have to be clear, simple and rational. They have to be relevant and direct attention and efforts where they should go. They have to be reliable at least to the point where their margin of error is acknowledged and understood. And they have to be, so to speak, self-announcing, understandable without complicated interpretation or philosophical discussion.

Each manger should have the information he needs to measure his own performance and should receive it soon enough to make any changes necessary for the desired results. And this information should go to the manager himself, and to his superior. It should be the means of self-control, not a tool of control from above.

This needs particular stress today, when our ability to obtain such information is growing rapidly as a result of technological progress in information gathering analysis and synthesis Up till now information on important facts was either not obtainable at all, or could be assembled only so late as to be of little but historical interest. This former inability to produce measuring information was not an unmixed curse. For while it made effective self control difficult, it also made difficult effective control of a manager from above; in the absence of information with which to control him, the manager had to be allowed to work as he saw fit.

Our new ability to produce measuring information will make possible effective self-control; and if so used, it will lead to a tremendous advance in the effectiveness and performance of management. But if this new ability is abused to impose control on managers from above, the new technology will inflict incalculable harm by demoralizing management, and by seriously lowering the effectiveness of managers.