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
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? 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.
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:
- Selling Uphill: Before and After
- Whether you're a CEO appealing to your Board of Directors, your stockholders or regulators, or a project
champion appealing to a senior manager, you have to "sell uphill" from time to time. Persuading
decision-makers who have some kind of power over us is a challenging task. How can we prepare the way
for success now and in the future?
- Astonishing Successes
- When we have successes that surprise us, we do feel good, but beyond that, our reactions are sometimes
self-defeating. What happens when we experience unanticipated success, and how can we handle it better?
- How to Reject Expert Opinion: I
- When groups of decision-makers confront complex problems, they sometimes choose not to consult experts
or to reject their advice. How do groups come to make these choices?
- A Review of Performance Reviews: Blindsiding
- Ever learn of a complaint about you for the first time at your performance review? If so, you were blindsided.
Reviews can be painful. Here are some guidelines for making them a little fairer.
- Just-In-Time Hoop-Jumping
- Securing approvals for projects, proposals, or other efforts is often called "jumping through hoops."
Hoop-jumping can be time-consuming and frustrating. Here are some suggestions for jumping through hoops
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
- And on February 5: Unrecognized Bullying: I
- Much workplace bullying goes unrecognized. Three reasons: (a) conventional definitions of bullying exclude much actual bullying; (b) perpetrators cleverly evade detection; and (c) cognitive biases skew our perceptions so we don't see bullying as bullying. Available here and by RSS on February 5.
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:
- 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 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people 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.