In control with Soft Controls

    How can SME enterprises determine and improve their soft controls?

    Soft controls are necessary as supplementary control measures in order to get more ‘control’ over the behaviour of people in organizations. The SME community recognizes this, but knowledge and means are lacking as of yet.


    Project description

    The Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences are doing research together on using and applying soft controls at SME’s. This research contributes to the proper functioning and performance of SMEs by:

    • Developing a technique (a scan) that allows SMEs insight into the degree of their soft controls being in place, or possible improvement;
    • Designing a set of manageable measures (toolkit) that allow SMEs to improve their organizational culture, norms and values, and corresponding attitude and behaviour.

    This research has already led to the development of a prototype of the soft control scan. Further research is necessary to continue developing the scan and supplement it with a custom toolkit for SMEs. We are working closely together with the professional practice on this. 

    Background information

    Soft control is about measures that have an influence on the following examples: motivation, loyalty, ethics, integrity, inspiration, and the norms and values of employees. Examples of soft  controls are ‘Tone at the Top’ model behaviour, the possibility of reporting incidents and creating a sense of responsibility.

    SME businesses are showing increased interest in measures other than hard controls to ‘regain control’. They are aware that they need to apply the above-mentioned soft controls, but the question is how?

    There are two obstacles:

    • Soft controls are difficult to measure.
    • There is little knowledge about the combination of SMEs and soft controls. Research has been focussing on large organizations and government. Available tools are not suitable for SMEs.

    Consequently there is a great need for knowledge about the functioning of soft controls at SME businesses and assisting SMEs in order to improve ‘being in soft control’. The absence of this is now leading to organizations limiting themselves to rules and procedures that are easy to measure and control: the so-called hard controls. As practice shows, this does have its consequences.