By show of hands, how many of you have been in a situation where you’ve been so busy chasing other people down that you can’t get your own work done? It’s almost everybody.
I want to tell you about my friend Amanda. She graduates with a Masters in Library Science from university and she goes to work for a large international corporation in research. After a few years they offer her an opportunity to run the employee lending library.
See, there are services that will rent books to corporations so that they can lend them out to employees. Well here you go—the librarian’s got a lending opportunity. Dream job!
So she sets up a little room. She puts two armchairs together with a little table and a book display and she advertises on the corporate intranet. And people start coming.
A borrower has two weeks to keep a book and then can extend it a week at a time if there’s no waiting list.
She was so successful that after a month half the books were loaned out and half of those had a waiting list.
But take a guess: How many of those books do you think came back after the two-week borrowing period? If you’re thinking, “not very many,” you’re right. People being who they are and having other things to do did not return the books.
So Amanda started chasing them down and she’d call and she’d e-mail and over time the problem got worse. Some of these books were out for months at a time, so even though there were waiting lists they never got to the next person on the list.
Amanda’s getting more and more frustrated. She says to me, “This is stupid. I have no power. I’m responsible for this collection. I have no authority. These people don’t report to me… …and management doesn’t back me up, so I don’t know what to do.”
Amanda’s not happy. Amanda’s boss is not happy because Amanda is spending her time chasing people down instead of getting her own work done.
Now, I have to tell you that Amanda was set up to fail.
She was set up to fail because she was given the responsibility of being an enforcer without being given the authority, the tools, and the training to do that.
And I see this constantly across government and across corporations where they take the operational services—the corporate services: Library, Records, Finance, IT, Security—all these services they take experts in their field—people who are policy writers—ask them to set up rules and then ask them to do enforcement. And since they have no authority they spend their time walking around trying to coax people into doing the work.
This is a dysfunctional system if I ever saw one.
Now, if you’re sitting there going, “Why is that dysfunctional? That’s the way we do things” “I don’t see what’s wrong.” Let me tell you what a functional system looks like, so you can compare it.
The best example of a functional system is our system of traffic and speeding laws. So, every municipality is allowed to set up the speed of the traffic on its roads. And we set up speed for safety purposes.
So the municipality hires a group of civil engineers over here, and it’s their job to designate a speed for each road—30, 40, 50—they tell you how fast they can go, and their responsibility is to come up with a defensible rationale for the speed they choose on every road.
They are, if you like, the “speed-policy makers.” They are the rule writers on speed. They have nothing to do with enforcement.
Who does enforcement? I’m sure you’ve seen them driving around the highways. The police are given the authority, the tools, and the training to do enforcement properly. And they don’t care a bit why the road is designated 30, 40, or 50.
You could try to explain that to police if you’re stopped for speeding. You could tell them, you roll down your window, and you can tell them that you know the road is actually built for something better and the rule-makers went wrong here. Probably won’t get you very far.
So, a functional system is separate like that: Rule-makers over here; Enforcers over here. The problem is that many government offices and many corporations give enforcement to the rule makers.
It is so not necessary, because all these organizations have other enforcers.
Every organization that has employees —government and private— has an employee retained on a contractual employer/ employee arrangement which requires them to follow the policies in the organization. If things get bad, to move to progressive discipline.
On top of that, every government office and many large corporations have a group they call “audit” or “audit and evaluation” or “internal audit,” and it’s their job to make sure that the different sections of the business run properly. So you have built-in enforcers.
I was working recently for a large government department and they introduced an overarching policy on IT. And in this policy it said that the people in IT were responsible for enforcing the policy. So I walked across the hall to the auditors sitting in their department looking at this new policy and scratching their heads, “You know…why are they making the IT people responsible for enforcement? Isn’t that our job?”
Well yes, it is.
“So, are they going to train those IT people on how to do audit and evaluation? Are they going to train them? Are they going to give them the authority to order the production of documents and to inspect operations?”
Well, most likely not.
We have two sets of skills here: we have rule writing and enforcement. I teach rule writing. I teach the writing of policies. I leave the teaching of enforcement to other experts.
If you’ve heard me speak before, you know that I’m a big proponent of what I call “Perfect Policies”— policies that are clear, concise, and respectful. And I’d like you to look at these two policies that are up on the screen now.
On the right is a very simply worded policy, very neutrally and respectfully worded. And on the left you see the same policy very aggressively worded.
Now, the right way to write this policy is the way on the right. If an organization has the policy written the way you see it here on the left that is a dead giveaway for the fact that the policy writers are being asked to do enforcement.
Policy writers have one tool: Words. And if you tell them to enforce, what they’re gonna do is add words. And they’re going to make the policy longer and harsher and meaner and stricter. That’s all they can do. Basically, you are asking the policy writers to raise their voice in order to be heard.
They are being set up to fail.
You wouldn’t ask the people who set the speeds for the different roads in the city to go out and give out traffic tickets on the highway. Are you doing that to the corporate service people in your office? There’s a better way and, if you are, give me a call and we can talk about how to fix that.
We don’t want the Amandas in the office being responsible for enforcement if they don’t have that authority. If you’re not going to give them the authority, the tools, and the training give those to the people who have that responsibility and let Amanda do her work.
And if you do that, we can get that lending library up to snuff again in just a few weeks.