Government agencies appear to enjoy making a habit of this, as recent events like Christchurch school closures, air force helicopter crashes, army drownings and others demonstrate. Even cash-rich multinationals, like Fonterra and Jetstar appear to struggle to comply with their own policies. The Pike River coal mine disaster is a powerful example of what can happen at the extreme end of the systematic non-compliance spectrum.
To me these failures show that organisations often construct a range of business policies and procedures, not because they want to, but because they have to. I call this “tick box” compliance. Compliance with these policies usually depends on the quality and longevity of the internal champions who crafted them in the first place. Rarely are there key performance indicators or similar measures pegged against senior managers to ensure that compliance with these policies remains firmly on their radar.
Where such policies have been prepared to anticipate and manage organisational risks, they should be signed off by and regularly challenged by governance bodies, such as senior management teams, boards of directors and councils. By that I mean questions that are routinely asked about how the organisation is going about its business and especially how it plans for anything new:
- “What do our customers think?”
- “How many lost time injuries did we have last month?”
- “Who else is likely to be affected by these changes? Have we listened to them?”
- “Are these the only options we have and what have we done to test that they are?”
- “Have we discussed this with our staff?”
- “What are we planning to do better next time?”
Writing an organisational policy is really easy. Half an hour spent doing a Google search will find plenty of good examples and best practice from around the world that can be cut and pasted beneath an organisation’s logo. This will probably read convincingly well and get signed off by a senior management team or a board of directors.
Smart examples may be made into posters and pinned up on noticeboards around the place. A chief executive may even mention the new policy in their morning talk or blog.
A manager may run a series of roadshows explaining that there is now a new policy and what it deals with. Many of their listeners will assume that the only person responsible for changing things is the manager who is giving the presentation.
With the exception of financial reporting policies and procedures, which most organisations are generally quite good at complying with, that is often where things end. Until something goes wrong.
Compliance starts with understanding, and understanding starts with cultural competence, I believe. Cultural competence starts with identifying the things that are important to organisational success, such as happy motivated staff, loyal customers, creativity and innovation.
It’s this cultural competence that many organisations lack and it’s one thing that’s really hard to change, particularly for complex organisations that deliver different products and services in a range of locations. Sadly it’s the one thing that many organisational leaders just don’t get and that’s why it’s so hard to change.