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Backwards Company Policies

Thursday, May 12, 2011 by Slaughter Development

Often the most interesting aspects of employee workflow are not procedures that are highly efficient but subtle workarounds. We received an email with an offhand comment that demonstrates this issue perfectly.

In the following message, two employees at different companies are coordinating their mutual involvement in a non-profit committee:

Thanks. I’m not supposed to log-in to gmail at work, so I’ll need to take a look at our group and calendar soon to get a handle on it, then promote it to everyone via e-mail.

In one sentence, the anonymous person sending this email illustrates the startlingly backwards culture of the typical employer. She expresses two core ideas:

  1. “I feel comfortable using company email to discuss our volunteer project.”
  2. “I am not permitted to use company resources to access our volunteer project.”

These contradictory statements make her office sound like a Kafka novel. It’s like being allowed to use company postage to request mail-order catalogs for personal use, but not to actually submit mail-order forms. How could official policy be so insane?

If we read the email carefully, however, possible rationales start to emerge. The key phrase is “I’m not supposed to log-in to gmail.” Maybe Google’s GMail product has been deemed a security risk. Or perhaps management feels that people who are using the service are more likely to be wasting time. In any case, the author of the message seems to think she might get caught on GMail. Perhaps the IT department has monitoring software, or maybe another employee could happen to walk by her cube.

None of these possible explanations are very reasonable. If GMail is dangerous or problematic, why not have the technical staff install Internet filters? Any time people feel they are “supposed” to act in a certain way, they probably harbor at least a small amount of resentment. Why can’t we be trusted to be responsible?

There’s a lesson for management in this story. If you want to provide exceptional customer service, emulate companies like Nordstrom and try to keep policies as simple as possible.  If you’re an employee who writes emails that say things like “I’m not supposed to do this at work,” consider a policy change of your own: don’t give out your work email to personal contacts. Or, think about finding an employer which is more interested in letting you work than they are in monitoring behavior.

Ultimately, the words we use to describe our limitations at the office are often the most important part of our workflow. Make smarter processes that empower your team to have the freedom to accomplish more. Contact Slaughter Development to learn more. We love to help!

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Like this post? Here are some related entries from The Methodology Blog you might enjoy:

Reading Employee Email - A few weeks ago, I was casually discussing the topic of corporate email privacy with another professional. Although the standard policy on the topic is fairly well-known, I was shocked to learn how his company managed individual email accounts. Read on »
What Google Should Do - Last week, I explained why Google’s new Priority Inbox feature was a terrible idea. This week, I’ll explain what they should do instead.
Read on »
Kingdoms in the Company - Over at the Creo Quality Blog, Jon Speer writes about the frustration of companies that are divided into silos. “Stop building walls”, Speer advises, and instead “figure out how to tear them down.” Read on »

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