Losing Weight

Bathroom Scale, Display ErrorHave you ever noticed how procedures or “rules” seem to accumulate in an organization much the way pounds do around one’s middle? You hardly notice the impact when you’re adding them one at the time, but one day you wake up and realize that the organization feels rather sluggish and just isn’t moving as efficiently as it once did. Maybe it’s time for the organization to lose a little weight.

You might wonder how the “weight gain” happened in the first place . . . after all, no one really likes more rules, right? In most cases, it’s not the rules that people like, it is a) consistent, predictable outcomes; b) risk avoidance; c) the need for control; and/or, d) an assumption of incompetence.

I am not suggesting that we get rid of all the rules. Clearly, “a” and “b” rules can serve a very important function. “C” and “d” rules, on the other hand, simply bog your organization down. How can you tell which rules serve an important function and which should be part of your weight loss plan? Here are a few good places to start:

  • “Because we have always done it that way” rules are the low hanging fruit of organizational weight loss. If no one can tell you what purpose a rule serves other than “because we have always done it that way,” stop it. If it serves an important purpose you’ll know soon enough.
  • Rules that don’t make sense should be second on your list. Not sure which rules don’t make sense? Ask your people. I guarantee you they know. Again, it is possible that this rule serves an important purpose, but if it doesn’t make sense there is probably a better way to accomplish it.
  • Rules for “highly unlikely but still in the 1-in-a-million realm of possibility” situations should be on the diet plan too. Lots of things “could” happen. But just because there is a remote possibility of something does not automatically mean that you should add 12 new rules on top of the 14 you already have in place.
  • Rules that assume your people are stupid annoy most of your staff and probably won’t make a difference for those who may truly be incompetent. Address the individual situation rather than penalize everyone else with five extra steps.

I am absolutely not saying that you should never add new rules or procedures to your organization. Weight gain happens not so much because we add rules, but because we never, ever take any away. My challenge for you today is to ask your staff what rules/procedures make their day more sluggish without bringing any value to the organization and start there.

You just might be amazed how much better your people feel if your organization loses a little weight.

Breaking Away from the Herd

Horse

In today’s world, where best practice and evidence-based practice and the push to achieve specific performance measures are often heralded (and funded) as THE path to success, it seems we have lost sight of the fact that while these things may be effective in achieving one specific outcome, they are not the panacea for organizational impact or finding new ways to solve stubborn challenges.

I’m not saying there is no value in “best practice.” I think there is. We have trained our staff in six different evidence based practices, and I believe they are an important part of our success . . . but no more so than our willingness to also try new, untested, creative strategies for overcoming our biggest obstacles. When we stop looking in new directions because others have chosen to fund and build rules around following one single path we, in effect, give up on finding new, perhaps better, solutions. Are you willing to sacrifice that possibility for the comfort of following the herd?

As Gary Keller and Jay Papasan noted in their book The One Thing, “Anyone who dreams of an uncommon life eventually discovers there is no choice but to seek an uncommon approach to living it.” Translated into organizational language, if we want to have an uncommon (new/breakthrough/life-changing) impact on those we strive to serve, it is unlikely we will get there by simply following the “standardized” path. We have to break away from the herd and chart our own course. Granted, that sounds great in theory, but it can be much harder in actual practice. For example . . .

Our organization provides services to struggling children and their families. We are paid to provide services to kids. We believe the best way to have a lasting positive impact on a child is to serve the whole family — in fact, the first item on our list of “how we do things around here” says “The client is the family system.” We are paid to provide services to kids. So we have to make hard choices about investing in a new path, one that we believe will yield better results for our young people, even if the current rules and funding are a deterrent to forging that path.

If being successful were simply a matter of following the status quo, we wouldn’t need leaders, just obedient followers. The leader’s challenge is to determine when to follow the proven path and when you need to step out in a new direction — because to do any less would be to settle for stopping short of your mission.

Maybe it’s time to take a deep breath and break away from the herd.