Navigating the Bermuda Triangle of Change – Policy

In a previous post, I referred to Policy, Culture, and Tradition as the Bermuda triangle of change. In this post, we’ll look at the barrier of policy and suggest some approaches.

The first time I was confronted with this was in trying to open a new operation for a large corporation. We had to hire people, so we had to put things in place to support them. First up – how will we pay them.

One of our goals was to be a low cost producer for our brands. We were all working from the premise that we could build on existing systems and not have to add headcount for things that were already centralized. So, equipped with some idea of how we wanted to pay people, what the local wages were, and a determination to tag along to the corporate system, I went to visit the corporate payroll department.

“You’ll need to designate a paymaster,” I was told.

“What’s that?”. I asked this knowing that every plant I had worked in previously had one. It was usually someone in a back corner in the accounting team, surrounded by time cards and computer printouts.

“It’s a person who verifies all hours, submits the pay reports, and performs all audits.”

“Ok, but we aren’t planning on using time cards, we will pay people to the schedule and not have overtime, and we won’t have enough people to warrant a full time person tracking time.” I was trying to challenge the system I know, but I sensed I had someone who was interested in improving things, so I pushed.

“Well,” she told me, “the policy says that the paymaster does all this and is part of our controls.”

I waited in silence. I had already said what we wanted to do.

“What if,” she proposed, “we set you up initially with a spreadsheet template, and you verify each week that the employees on the sheet still work there and assure that the report accurately reflects the schedule. I can be your paymaster  from here.”


Well that’s how it eventually happened, but it took a few more steps.

To deal with policy that might prevent change that has value, you need to take a few steps.

  1. Understand the intent of the policy. Don’t assume that it was established because we can’t trust people. Assume it has a business value.
  2. Learn the difference between the policy owner and the policy enforcer. The policy enforcer may not feel any degree of freedom. None.
  3. Schedule time with the policy owner to understand why the policy exists, and to enlist them in problem solving how you might make the required change within the policy, or what might be done for policy change or policy exception.
  4. Respect the fact that a policy change may have other repercussion you are not familiar with. Be flexible and consider other alternatives.

Policy has a purpose. It was written to keep things “on the rails”, or to assure equitable treatment of employees, or in some cases, because governmental regulations or good financial practices require effective policies be in place. You can’t expect to smash policy that is in you way, but you may well be able to adjust things to get to your desired end state.

Next up: Tradition!

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