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Should Staff Blindly Follow Orders?

As a manager, it may be nice to think of giving an order, and the staff follows it without question.  It seems to be a good example of a strong organizational hierarchy, or the most effective and efficient way to run a department.  I am the manager, they are the staff I supervise, and there exists a clear hierarchy of power which cannot be questioned.  But should it be?

Recently I read an article on Inc.com website (http://www.inc.com/margaret-heffernan/why-you-dont-want-obedient-employees.html) and found this little gem of an article.  The article states that for the most part, people are obedient according to psychological studies and experiments over the last 50 years.  Management across the business world may be inclined to be happy that for the most part, people will follow their orders without much questioning.  However, the article goes on to state that recent economic problems, such as the banks that were selling sub-prime loans, can be correlated to this following orders characteristic.  The argument provided in the article is one of where most of the people knew what they were doing was probably not the right decision, but did it anyway.  Why?  They were simply following orders.

A common problem in the modern business world is workers are not questioning decisions or thinking critically.  How much stronger would businesses be if their workforce is engaged and thinks critically.  In his book “The Wisdom of Crowds”, James Surowiecki argues that many problems can be resolved when worked on by a large enough, diverse “crowd” of people.  Not diverse in the sense of racial or gender diversity, but in terms of people from various professions, skill sets, and experience.  While the conclusion may not be that cut and dry, the end result is that more angles are factored in, and any of these decisions will most likely be the best, well rounded ones.  Common mistakes or oversights would most likely be avoided, and most arguments would have been made.  The end result would be a decision that would most likely be the best one for that particular problem.

Instead of blindly following an order, the article states that an engaged and good employee would disobey orders that are poor.  In some environments, I can see where managers would view this as having their authority questioned or an employee was insubordinate.  I would argue that a good manager who is secure in their abilities and are dedicated to the organization they work for should take a step back and re-examine the employee’s decision to not follow an order.  Instead of falling back on immediate punitive measures, a responsible manager will ask why the order was not carried out.  Using the sub-prime loans as an example, a manager who asked themselves why some loans were not granted to people who in no way could afford the loan at that amount would have realized the employee was being responsible to the organization.  While it may be frustrating to give a directive, only to be questioned or have to delve into reasons why it was given, each manager needs to set their pride aside and look at what is best for the organization as a whole.  Mistakes are made at all levels in an organization, and all levels in the work force must realize this.  For an employee to see an obvious mistake in the decision process, and chooses to not follow an order should not be punished.

Is blindly following an order nice to have if you are a manager?  It may be easier, but as a manager, it puts more pressure on me for any decision I make.  If I come up with an idea and decide to implement it, but my idea is poor, if members on our staff act without question, that idea will be realized.   The organization would be worse off for it as a consequence.  Not following an order does not always mean a staff is not loyal to a manager or organization, but can be a sign of an empowered, critically thinking staff that will greatly benefit it.  How much better would an organization be if there exists a two-way communication channel between the management levels, and the regular staff levels?  Staff should not blindly follow bad orders, and in the end should be rewarded for their dedication and loyalty to an organization.

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