The shortcomings of ‘command and control’ in the corporate world

Long established, emergency services or military management models have great difficulty working in corporate environments. Known as command and control (C2), this management model is defined as an approach which enables assigned individuals legal authority and direction over others to accomplish missions or tasks.

The reason C2 is inappropriate in a corporate environment is simple. The primary purpose of emergency services or the military is to respond to crises or emergencies. Corporations, on the other hand, are designed to generate profits for their shareholders. Emergency and crises management is not a core discipline for most businesses.


Why would businesses implement a method they never use during a crisis?

One of the critical features of C2 is its use of hierarchies to issue directives and assign responsibilities. Corporations generally operate in business units, and cross-business unit hierarchies are discouraged as business units have their budgets and individual goals to meet. This phenomenon is where the expression “working in silos” comes from.

I have witnessed first-hand, corporations trying to implement these control and command hierarchies in the face of a crisis. More often then not, this approach does not work well. It can worsen the response to the immediate crisis by creating inefficiencies and hurdles. Generally, the person in control of an organisation, commonly the CEO or Managing Director, has the authority to direct a member of staff to take action of a critical task. However, because of the effect of siloes, the response to direction is sometimes “my Manager said I’m only to act when they ask me” or even “that’s not my job and therefore not my responsibility.” The refusal is that blunt.

In practice, after a critical loss of time, the Manager is tracked down, and permission is granted. This is far from useful or efficient. Worse still when the General Manager refuses to act – yes, I have witnessed this!

When corporations develop a disaster management framework that is mandated for their business, the results are much better. This is referred to as the emergency organisation. This approach differs from C2, as it encompasses a staff’s skills and expertise and adapts them to crisis and emergency management.

Instead of changing how the company functions, the emergency organisation incorporates a business’s current operating methods and moulds them to principles of crisis and emergency management. In practice, when faced with an emergency or crisis, staff can quickly implement these policies and procedures to respond to an emergency or crisis potentially protecting lives, reputation and the ongoing viability of the business.

Under this model, staff do not need to ask for permission; emergency and crisis management is part of their role.

The pitfalls of C2 are apparent – why would you change how you operate, a method that is never otherwise used, on the worst day of your business’s life. The emergency organisation, in contrast, is a mindset which exists before the emergency or crisis occurs. This mindset gives an organisation the best chance to manage the rare challenges a crisis or emergency poses.

drew beamer se7vvkzyxti unsplash

Share this post