Paradoxical policy is policy that gets in the way of reaching objectives we say we want to reach. With a little thought, we can grasp how counter-productive — in some cases, how dumb — these policies are. But even when we perceive the paradox in a proposed policy, we can have difficulty preventing its deployment. A simple personal example is procrastinating studying for an exam, and then, with the exam approaching, cramming so much that for lack of sleep that we flunk the exam.
For organizations, paradoxical policies are more complicated. An example: To reduce expenses, the company sets a maximum money value for petty cash purchases. But the maximum is so low that the total cost of purchasing a heavy-duty stapler is three times the cost of the stapler, if you include the cost of processing the requisition form necessitated by the new policy.
Here's a collection of paradoxical policies, anonymized to protect the innocent.
- To prevent using company telephones for personal toll calls, everyone is required to review their toll calls for "business relevance" each month. They then pay for nonbusiness calls by check, which in most cases costs more to process than the face amount of the check.
- To control personal toll calls made from conference rooms, conference room telephones are disabled for outgoing toll calls. Therefore, conference calls must be made from personal offices, rendering unusable the electronic whiteboards that were recently installed in conference rooms.
- To reduce Paradoxical policy is policy
that gets in the way of
we say we want to reachpilfering of laptop computers, laptops are locked to the floor with steel cables, making them no longer portable. If you actually want to take one somewhere, you submit a requisition two business days in advance. This is so inconvenient that most people submit their laptop removal requisitions every two days automatically using an app written by someone in IT who chooses to remain anonymous.
- To create more parking spaces at ground level, visitor parking was eliminated. Visitors must now park in the employee garage, which is access-controlled by a gate. Employees expecting visitors must explain to the visitors that they can park in the "Fire Lane" while they get a visitor pass from Security that enables them to pass through the electric gate into the employee garage. This procedure has not been submitted for approval of the city Fire Department.
- Human Resources has installed a performance management system designed to weed out the "bad employees," which enables tracking the number of employees discharged or reassigned because of substandard performance. Supervisors are therefore required to identify "bad employees." The unintended consequence of this policy is that the new performance management system is deemed successful only if supervisors identify a sufficient number of "bad employees," whether or not there really are any.
Next time we'll look at policies that directly affect projects. Meanwhile, if you've encountered paradoxical policies in your own experience, please send them along. I collect them. Next in this series Top Next Issue
Are your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrendbTtLLSVlUPPCNkAner@ChacthFxWKdRwnLylOCDoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- When Your Boss Is a Micromanager
- If your boss is a micromanager, your life can be a seemingly endless misery of humiliation and frustration.
Changing your boss is one possible solution, but it's unlikely to succeed. What you can do
is change the way you experience the micromanagement.
- My Right Foot
- There's nothing like an injury or illness to teach you some life lessons. Here are some things I learned
recently when I temporarily lost some of my independence.
- How to Procrastinate
- You probably know many techniques for procrastinating, and use them regularly, but vociferously deny
doing so. That's what makes this such a delicate subject that I've been delaying writing this article.
Well, those days are over.
- Why Sidebars Happen
- Sidebar conversations between meeting participants, conducted while someone else has the floor, are
a distracting form of disorder that can waste time and reduce meeting effectiveness. Why do sidebars happen?
- Ego Depletion and Priority Setting
- Setting priorities for tasks is tricky when we find the tasks unappealing, because we have limited energy
for self-control. Here are some strategies for limiting these effects on priority setting.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrendbTtLLSVlUPPCNkAner@ChacthFxWKdRwnLylOCDoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info