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Crush stupid policies

4 min read


When team leaders or team members in your organization bump up against stupid policies or dumb targets, what do they do?

Do they shoot up a flare and engage people in solving these issues, promptly? Or, do they ignore those policies or targets, swim upstream against the organizational current, and do the right thing? Or do they go along, compliant to the stupid policies or dumb targets, saying, “It’s not my job to fix that,” etc.?

By far the most common reaction is the last one: employees compliantly enforce the dumb policies and align to the stupid targets. Some team members do the right thing for customers or peers. Sometimes their efforts stay below the radar, but sometimes their efforts are discovered and they are redirected to align to policies and targets.

Too few team members proactively engage people in addressing these issues.

Does your organization have stupid policies or dumb targets in place today? It’s likely there are some — and every employee knows which policies and targets are dumb.

How do stupid policies come into being? In many cases the policies made sense when they were created. And, as time passed, the policies simply don’t make sense anymore. How do stupid targets come into being? In many cases organizational leaders set targets that make sense and are easy to measure. Over time, however, the targets become stupid if they actually inhibit the desired level of service!

I’ve worked with a number of clients who have call centers as part of their customer-relations systems. Years ago, call center “best practices” set a time limit for team members to beat when on the phone with customers. The arbitrary time limit often meant that employees would rush to answer customer questions to beat their time limit. Some told me they simply disconnected so that call would finish under the time limit.

It was, unfortunately, easy to measure the length of time of a customer call. What was tough to measure was whether customers felt heard and had their question or concerns addressed.

A recent example in the news in the US are allegations that the Phoenix Veterans Affairs hospital delayed treatment of sick veterans. Efforts are underway to investigate charges that the hospital tried to hide that more than 1400 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor. The official list sent to VA officials showing that the Phoenix VA hospital was meeting the target of providing care to patients in a timely manner (14 to 30 days). The secret electronic list tracked the reality, that waits of over 20 months were common.

As quality expert W. Edwards Deming said, “A bad system will beat a good person every time.”

How can you eliminate stupid policies? Make crushing stupid policies a valued activity! One client created a “Stupid Policies Team” whose job it was to identify then refine or eliminate stupid policies.

What do you think? What stupid policies exist in your work environment? How does your team work around or crush stupid policies? Share your thoughts about this post/podcast in the comments section below.

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