Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 17, Issue 36;   September 6, 2017: Paradoxical Policies: I

Paradoxical Policies: I

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

Although most organizational policies are constructive, many are outdated or nonsensical, and some are actually counterproductive. Here's a collection of policies that would be funny if they weren't real.
Writing on a whiteboard

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 non-business 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
    reaching objectives
    we say we want to reach
    pilfering 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 Go to top Top  Next issue: Paradoxical Policies: II  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre 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 welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

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.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A bobsled teamTeam Thrills
Occasionally we have the experience of belonging to a great team. Thrilling as it is, the experience is rare. How can we make it happen more often?
The Johari WindowAssumptions and the Johari Window: II
The roots of both creative and destructive conflict can often be traced to the differing assumptions of the parties to the conflict. Here's Part II of an essay on surfacing these differences using a tool called the Johari window.
The Marx brothers: Chico, Harpo, Groucho and ZeppoTINOs: Teams in Name Only
Perhaps the most significant difference between face-to-face teams and virtual or distributed teams is their potential to develop from workgroups into true teams — an area in which virtual or distributed teams are at a decided disadvantage. Often, virtual and distributed teams are teams in name only.
A Roman coin from the reign of Marcus Cocceius NervaThe Ups and Downs of American Handshakes: I
In much of the world, the handshake is a customary business greeting. It seems so simple, but its nuances can send signals we don't intend. Here are some of the details of handshakes in the USA.
OverwhelmedHow to Get Overwhelmed
Here's a field manual for those who want to get overwhelmed by all the work they have to do. If you're already overwhelmed, it might explain how things got that way.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The Bay of Pigs, CubaComing September 30: Seven More Planning Pitfalls: II
Planning teams, like all teams, are susceptible to several patterns of interaction that can lead to counter-productive results. Three of these most relevant to planners are False Consensus, Groupthink, and Shared Information Bias. Available here and by RSS on September 30.
Assembling an IKEA chairAnd on October 7: Seven More Planning Pitfalls: III
Planning teams, like all teams, are vulnerable to several patterns of interaction that can lead to counter-productive results. Two of these relevant to planners are a cognitive bias called the IKEA Effect, and a systemic bias against realistic estimates of cost and schedule. Available here and by RSS on October 7.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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:

Reprinting this article

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 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.