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? rbrenxlUmQJJuAwPjLCsyner@ChacXmzxdjTeyvMebggJoCanyon.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:
- Double Your Downsizing Damage
- Some people believe that senior management is actually trying to hurt their company by downsizing.
If they are they're doing a pretty bad job of it. Here's a handy checklist for evaluating the performance
of your company's downsizers.
- Team-Building Travails
- Team-building is one of the most common forms of team "training." If only it were the most
effective, we'd be in a lot better shape than we are. How can we get more out of the effort we spend
- 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?
- Coping with Layoff Survival
- Your company has just done another round of layoffs, and you survived yet again. This time was the most
difficult, because your best pal was laid off, and you're even more fearful for your own job security.
How can you cope with survival?
- Action Item Avoidance
- In some teams, members feel so overloaded that they try to avoid any additional tasks. Here are some
of the most popular patterns of action item avoidance.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenAZQTUHRoqDJFOFEQner@ChacdZcrAQUsJHbCAboYoCanyon.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, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
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.