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Culture Over Compliance: Getting More Done at Work

Culture Over Compliance: Getting More Done at Work

by Geoff Balmer

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I recently watched this TED talk by BCG Managing Director, Yves Morieux; “How too many rules at work keep you from getting things done.” Morieux talks about how, in an endless search for the “holy trinity” of more clarity, more accountability and more measurement within organisations, these same organisations find themselves becoming less and less productive. He argues that organisations should shift their focus away from compliance and towards co-operation, reducing the reliance on middle-officers and coordinators that take up resources but don’t add requisite value.

His views got me thinking on organisational structure, culture and process. Morieux’s point is hard to argue with, but if integrating this type of mentality was simple then it probably wouldn’t need to be discussed. Avoiding compliance entirely isn’t a perfect solution, but we can all agree that more productivity is good. So how can this co-operative approach be instituted in businesses?

The Holy Trinity

Clarity, accountability and measurement are the three key points that Morieux highlights as sticking points for productivity. These are terms that are probably as familiar to those reading this as they are to me, as most in the business world are always looking to find new ways to gain clarity, create accountability and measure performance. These are universally accepted as being good things. When we have clarity, we understand what is going on at all times. When we have accountability, we know who is responsible and thus who to go to in order to gain that clarity. When we have measurement, we are better able to optimise the performance of our organisation.

But what’s the other side of clarity, accountability and measurement? What happens when we have too much, and they become the sole drivers of the organisation? In regards to clarity, when we constantly clarify and break elements down further and further, we end up narrowing our scope. People are put into roles where there is such clarity in their objectives that it sometimes overrides common sense. With accountability, there is such a focus on making somebody responsible for failure or non-compliance that the emphasis on succeeding becomes reduced. Finally, when we measure performance to the point where only that which is measured can be considered complete, that measurement becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; only that which is measured will be completed. All energy will be put into performing to the measurement rather than succeeding, focusing again on compliance with rules and regulations rather than productivity. 

Working Smarter

It might be a cliché, but sometimes, less really is more. Going on a crusade for clarity, accountability and measurement can result in wasted energy, energy which is better utilised by working smarter rather than harder. For instance, although many in the business world see working long hours as a sign of commitment, research shows that spending more than 40 hours a week is inefficient and can even be harmful. In fact, in white collar jobs, productivity declines by as much as 25% when workers put in 60 hours or more per week. At the 50-hour mark, workers can be at greater risk of depression and workplace injury.

When thinking about how many organisations accept, and sometimes even encourage this mentality, red flags get raised in regards to how people are co-operating within the workplace. Especially in large, complex organisations where so many processes, structures and systems are in place; all aimed at preserving that clarity, accountability and measurement, rather than allowing the workforce to be as productive as possible.

Human Behaviour

Though it might be tempting, the key to changing this approach is not through implementing more processes. Nor is it about clarifying clarity, or making someone accountable for accountability. Rather than assigning responsibility for compliance, co-operation needs to be the focus. Morieux talks about creating organisations that make it individually useful to co-operate. Where co-operation isn’t an initiative, but rather it just makes sense. His approach is reminiscent of some of the insights presented by leadership expert Rob Redenbach, during his seminar with us earlier this year. It’s about creating a people-first approach with an emphasis on doing. To implement this successfully, co-operation needs to be a fundamental part of your organisation’s ethos, a building block of the workplace culture that every employee engages with.

By doing this, and making co-operation a regularly accepted part of working for your organisation, you can promote real behavioural change amongst your workforce. When people talk about having a great culture, more often than not they mean socially. However, your internal culture, vision and values are some of the strongest tools you have to drive change. We’ve seen examples of this in some organisations changing their approach to Health & Safety or customer satisfaction from compliance to culture. This change was reflected in the behaviours of workers and ultimately, in the metrics we see so much value in. What’s to say that we can’t do the same for co-operation and productivity?

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Fuzzy

If you want your workplace to be more productive, then perhaps pushing for a culture change is the most powerful way to achieve this. Whether you’re a rule-maker or a rule-breaker, you have the power to impact your workplace’s culture through your behaviours. In Morieux’s words “Don’t look for clarity; go for fuzziness. Fuzziness overlaps.” Have fewer rules. Pull away the processes. You’ll probably find that more gets done.

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