Create Eagles – Not Ducks When it Comes to Policies

Guest post from S. Chris Edmonds:

Most stupid policies don’t start out that way. They are intended to “protect & serve” but can evolve into something not good.

There’s a story by Wayne Dyer about eagles and ducks. In organizations, ducks are those employees who are bogged down in the stupid policies, i.e. rules that no longer serve. They are helpless to change things that don’t work. Ducks quack, “That’s not my job,” and “I’m sorry, that’s our policy,” and “My computer won’t let me remove that charge from your account,” etc.

Eagles soar above the crowd, doing great things for customers and the company. They don’t get mired in policies that don’t work; they maneuver around stupid policies to serve the customer and the company fairly.

Years ago I discovered something about organizations and policy creation.

The client was a municipal government – city, not county or state. I was teaching a leadership program and participants were very pleased with the models, tools, and techniques the program presented.

At one point during the afternoon, one woman – let’s call her Joyce – shared her frustrations with a woman in her office (who was not attending my program). Joyce explained that this peer of hers had a unique role which placed her in a “gatekeeper” position.

This peer – let’s call her Roberta – touched key projects at key times, moving paperwork to decision-makers for approval, scheduling meetings of decision-makers with project staff, etc. Roberta tended to move more quickly on activities that her “work friends” would benefit from, and she allowed other activities to sit, untouched –  sometimes for days.

Roberta’s inconsistencies caused much consternation to Joyce and others in the room. I was about to inquire about how the group has tried to address these issues when Joyce stated, “And Roberta is ‘Employee of the Month’ this month!”

I’m certain that my shock was quite apparent; I felt like my jaw dropped to the floor. I sputtered a moment then asked Joyce, “Why would you select Roberta as ‘Employee of the Month’?” Joyce looked at me and calmly said, “It was her turn.”

The class and I spoke awhile about stupid policies; this “EOTM” policy certainly qualified. Employee of the Month programs typically do not celebrate great contributions or performance; they celebrate moderate contribution and (mostly) tenure. Why would an organization want just ONE Employee of the Month? Wouldn’t you want dozens of terrific employees, all recognized for doing great things every day for customers and for the company?

This particular practice is not unique to municipalities. We’ve all experienced this “good intentions gone wrong” policy issue in all kinds of organizations, all across the globe.

Impact of Stupid Policies

Every team member knows which policies are stupid; they talk about them with their peers all the time! Customers know – and some are quick to point out how dumb those policies are. Stupid policies:


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