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Getting rid of the compliance mindset

To follow, or not to follow the rules.

Have you noticed following established rules is a paradox of behavior? In some situations, we admonish employees when they don’t follow procedures and rules. We create manuals of standard procedures for consistent experiences and output. But when someone doesn’t follow the standard procedure and the outcome is wrong, they are reminded of the procedure and possibly disciplined for it. Yet in other settings, we applaud and recognize those who think beyond the rules to discover and create new things. Apple’s Think Different campaign, Bill Gates dropping out of Harvard, and Michael Dell dropping out the University of Texas are examples of people who didn’t follow the prescribed rules of society, but were later recognized a genius path makers.

In the modern office, there are entire departments for compliance to enforce rules, regulations, and requirements. This translates into mounds of extra paperwork and procedures, much of which is non-value add for the customer. Being honest, I’ve always taken a deep breath when the word compliance was mentioned. Wait for it…….

The biggest problem with compliance is when we treat it as a box to check. If we stop to think about the rule or compliance control, we might just see possibilities to improve our service or organizational stability. But it’s tough to get beyond the mask of compliance rules.

Checking a box.

In our most recent employee survey results, there were many write-in responses that questioned the value of visual management boards. The employee was frustrated because they found the process of keeping information up-to-date on the board a waste of time. They saw the entire process as mere compliance. Someone was checking a box.

In another example, my department didn’t follow procedures to keep ticket history updated so the customer stayed informed. It’s an expected standard to update tickets in a timely manner. But when the act is seen as compliance and not understood as a value-add communication vehicle, team members don’t complete it. When a standard is interpreted as “checking a box” rather than understanding the ‘why’ then the activity is rarely done.  

Ask the right questions.

I find myself falling into the compliance trap when I audit our visual management board for department adherence to standards. It’s easy to get into the mindset of completing the task so I can mark the audit complete. I generate a score, publish it, and forget about it until the next week.

But that mindset misses the opportunity to work ‘on’ the business rather than ‘in’ the business. Reality is, if the team standards are set with a meaningful purpose to help eliminate waste and add value to the team then the compliance audit of the standards is the ‘check’ in a Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle. A proper audit (check) also creates countermeasures for action. A proper audit digs past the standard/compliance control. It seeks to understand the flow of work through the department. It identifies opportunities to improve.

I think of all this as a battle between compliance and engagement. If I want mere compliance then I’ll find limited value in the time spent auditing and continue to be consumed with non-compliant behaviors. If I ask ‘why’ and seek to understand the behaviors behind the compliance requirements then I may just find myself called a rule-breaker. If breaking the rules leads to continuous improvement then sign me-up.

Onward and Upward!