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

Paradoxical Policies: I

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Although most organizational policies are constructive, many are outdated or nonsensical, and some are actually counterproductive.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 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
    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

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