It’s Policy, Committed Sardines, and Small Groups That Make Big Change

Does it burn you as much as it burns me when you hear the words “It’s policy” when it is an obstacle to progress, improvement, efficiency and more? Come on! Even if it is BAD policy? Even if it is counterproductive to everything you know? Even if it doesn’t support your current business direction?

Here is what I know about policy: People make policy.

It is possible that the person that made the policy made it for a very good reason at the time. It is possible that business processes, directives, and the business climate has changed since that person made the policy. It is possible that the reason that policy is still in place is because nobody challenged it. Nobody asked, “who made the policy?” Does anyone regularly ask, “how is this policy serving us now?” Is it possible that the reason why it is still policy is because there is a lot of sheepwalking (a term I adopted from Seth Godin) going on? Perhaps people have been conditioned to just accept the status quo when they are told “it’s policy.”

TTWWADI – The Big Rut

Ever heard of TTWWADI? It’s an acronym for “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” TTWWADI is a big rut. Policy that serves as an obstacle to achieving business goals very often is a TTWADI rut. It is easy to get stuck in the rut because most of us want to do the right thing, and follow the policy we have been taught. Questioning policy can often put us on a radar screen that we weren’t on before, shining a very uncomfortable light. However, if we don’t question policy, what is it costing us?

One of my favorite quotes is from General Eric Shinseki, retired Chief of Staff, U. S. Army. He said, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” So, you think change is hard? What about being left in the dust? What happens when your most talented people constantly bump up against ‘policy’ that doesn’t allow them to use their greatest talents on the job? It tends to become motivation to leave.

Policy is meant to be a guideline for streamlining, not an obstacle. Guidelines by their very nature have variations and exceptions. I recently watched an episode of a television hospital drama series where a patient had been bitten by a raccoon that was discovered to have rabies. No worries. Yes, rabies causes certain death. But, there is a vaccine – if administered before symptoms appeared!

The bad news was that the hospital was out of the vaccine, and had to find another source. While they found a source, ‘They’ had a “policy” to not release the vaccine without written permission from the patient. Knowing that the patient in her current condition could not be present to give that permission, the nurse, in exasperation cried, “Of course the patient gives her permission because she will DIE without it!” Yet, they still insisted that it was policy to have written permission from the patient and would not release the vaccine.

While this was fiction (at least I hope!), I can say I have experienced corporate ‘policy’ that was just as much an obstacle to achieving the stated goals of the business. And what astonishes me even more, is how many people followed that policy, agreed that it was an obstacle, and yet still followed it without question.

Does it remind you of the Authority song by John Mellencamp? ( I know you have danced to it!) Does this ring a bell? “I fight authority, authority always wins.” Maybe you need to be a committed sardine.

Pause for effect.

“A committed sardine?” you question. Okay, let me explain. I recently found a website dedicated to excellence in education whose domain name is “The Committed Sardine.” I liked it, so I adopted the term as part of my vernacular. That’s how I roll. Anyway, it references the fact that blue whales being one of the largest mammals on earth can sometimes take two to three minutes to make a 180 degree turn, while schools of fish – sardines for instance, that are just as large as a Blue Whale if not larger, can make a 180 degree turn almost instantaneously (or so it seems).

How do they do this? If you look close, you’ll notice that although the fish all appear to be swimming in the same direction, in reality at any time there will be a small group of sardines swimming in a different direction, against the flow, against conventional wisdom. It rattles the cage a bit and causes discomfort for the rest of the school.

But finally, when a critical mass of truly committed sardines is reached – not as large as what you might think, only 15 to 20 percent who are truly committed to a new direction, the rest of the school suddenly turns and goes with them – almost instantaneously!

I don’t know about you, but I want to be a committed sardine. Are you compelled to question policy when it is an obstacle to doing More Great Work? People make policy. You could be one of those People that also change policy. Or, at least, you could be a catalyst for change.

I close with this quote widely attributed to Margaret Mead. It is a reminder of how powerful one or a small group of people can be: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world -indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

I, for one, believe this is true.

Mia Turpel is life, career and business coach.  She takes you from stressed out to STREAMLINED in your life, career or business so that you can spend more time on the things you love.  Interested in more?  Be sure to sign up for STREAMLINED ezine atwww.performancesupportpartners.com for news and information on these topics and more!  Interested in coaching? Click here to sign up for a complimentary 30 minute exploratory session – you will be sure to go away with insights about your big game in life.

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