no exceptions (unless we want to)

The times have changed, and we’ve all had to change with them. Almost every aspect of our lives is different than it was at the end of 2019, especially how we lead our organizations and conduct our operations – remotely (with extra distractions), virtual meetings, with fewer people, less team cohesion, restricted travel, etc.

We’ve changed with knee-jerk reactions, well thought out responses, and/or a combination of both, but one thing’s for sure:  we’ve all changed the way we do things.

I say all, but that’s not completely accurate. There are small clans in our companies that have not changed the way they do things. In fact, they rigidly adhere to self-imposed policies and procedures that are only bypassed when they want to.

Here are some examples:

My daughter works (now at home) at the intersection of academic, medical, and government professionals. Until last week, she was using the keyboard and mouse of a former colleague because hers was in no man’s land (aka her office). The IT department called wanting the equipment back… without providing another keyboard and mouse. She dug in her heels (the apple didn’t fall far from the tree) and refused to make the trip until they found a way to keep her working. She was begrudgingly allowed to bypass the wet signature request process but still had to drive in to make the exchange. A win for the IT department but a loss for the worker.

Some months after I retired from the Five-sided Puzzle Palace, I received a call demanding my medical records back. You see, the military stores old medical and service records in a huge warehouse that resembles the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and they wanted me to let them have the record of every doctor visit I’d had in my 32 years of service. The conversation went something like this:

“We have to have your medical records.”

“I can’t get back in the building without an escort.”

“We don’t provide escorts.”

“Then I can’t bring you my records.”

“But we have to have them.”

“I have to have an escort.”

“We don’t provide escorts.”

We could have continued that conversation for as long as I was willing to play along, but at the end of the day (and the end of today), I still have my medical records but a loss for HR.

Last example, I swear. When I was a snot-nose Captain, I had to do a weekly report on the reasons behind changes to the flying schedule. The report went up the chain of command for review until it reached the “I don’t care” level. Once I started identifying the reason as “the boss said so,” the report stopped going up the chain of command. It was never missed. A win for the King of Malicious Compliance.

I’m not bashing the support functions in our companies as second-class citizens; they’re critical to our mission success and often strive tirelessly behind the scenes to keep the backbone of our operations intact. Unfortunately, they’re usually treated less like athletes in the company and more like athletic supporters. Certainly, in today’s operating environment our organizations would collapse without IT.

But problems arise when those support functions continue to rigidly adhere to self-imposed policies and procedures… for the minions, anyway.

Think how differently executives are treated than lower-level supervisors when they say, “I think I need… or I would like…” A new or additional monitor appears. Or a flat screen TV or a piece of office furniture or a new cell phone or a laptop magically appears, but a similar request from anyone else (even with a please or mother-may-I) is met with a demand for justification and three levels of approval because “that’s the policy.”

At Triangle Performance, we believe that there are only three reasons people don’t do what we ask of them: they don’t know how, they don’t want to, or we won’t let them. If you’ve ever wondered about the third reason, this is it. We let operations be negatively impacted because that’s the way we’ve always done it, that’s the way we do it, and it would be anarchy without policies and procedures. In other words, we’re bringing it on ourselves.

Stop it!

Let’s stop ignoring the problem and be open to feedback from all stakeholders. Consider possible initiatives to improve productivity and get their buy-in to overcome the roadblocks.

Let’s stop ignoring the backshops and start recognizing outstanding performance in the organization regardless of the department. Most often, support personnel get recognized internally while the customer-facing and operations folks are rewarded at a company-wide gathering.

Let’s stop expecting and accepting different customer service attitudes at different levels of the company. Perks be damned, how we treat others is the cornerstone of our leadership style, and if we treat the administrative, IT, or human resources staff – including the person who empties our trashcan – differently than we treat anyone else on the team, it’s a sign of weak leadership.

And let’s stop accepting the policies and procedures that worked satisfactorily in 2019 and start empowering our teams to find new ways to excel in our current environment and beyond.

My friend Kevin Berchelmann says there are only two groups of people that like change: the ones that control it and the ones that benefit by it. We may not feel like we’re in control of the changes COVID-19 is making in our lives, but we can absolutely impact how we remove the policy and procedure roadblocks for the benefit of all.

How about it, leaders?

It’s up to you.

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