Backchannel Control Methods - Principles of Management

The control methods discussed so far in this chapter all rely for their execution on formal reporting channels within an organization. In addition to these formal systems, managers often use backchannel methods to collect additional qualitative information that gives them another view of how the organization is performing, adds richness to the data collected through formal channels, and enables them to achieve greater control.

A backchannel is an informal channel via which managers can collect important information. To establish a backchannel, managers have to develop a network of contacts within the organization that gives an honest picture of how the organizations performing.

At Starbucks, for example, the first thing CEO Jim Donald does every morning is call 5 to10 stores to talk to the managers and other employees there and get a sense of how their stores are performing. Donald also stops at a local Starbucksevery morning on the way to work to buy his morning coffee. This has allowed him to get to know individual employees there well. Donald finds these informal contacts useful source of information about how the company is performing.

Managers often buy products from their own organization, interacting with it as customers, to see how well it is treating this crucial constituency. Some senior managers work alongside lower-level employees—partly to build a network of contacts and partly to understand how the organization is performing at that level.

Herb Kelleher, the charismatic founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines, would often help airline attendants on Southwest flights, distributing refreshments and talking to customers. One frequent flyer on Southwest Airlines reported sitting next to Kelleher three times in 10 years. Each time Kelleher asked him and others nearby how Southwest Airlines was doing in a number of areas, looking for trends and spotting inconsistencies.

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