Petty, Pointless, Preposterous, Policies and Procedures

Article featured at the Huffington Post

I arrived at Japan’s Narita Airport ready to get my seventeen-hour trip to North Carolina. When the gleaming glass doors of the airport slid open, my eyes widened. The only person I saw was the airline representative behind the white booth in front of an empty line that looked like it should have been stuffed with 200 anxious, impatient travelers ready to get their flights over with as well. In all my travels, this had never happened to me before. It was like the adult version of an empty Disney World line; except, the ride was not as magical.

I bypassed the line completely instead of pointlessly zigzagging through it. I dragged my two large, heavy suitcases filled with delicate Japanese souvenirs, my computer bag, and my purse directly towards the check-in booth. When the airline representative heard me approaching, his head popped up.

“Miss, no, no…” he said as he came out from the booth and walked towards me, “Miss, no, no…Miss…Miss, no, no.” 

He began trying to communicate something seemingly important to me in a handful of broken English words. He pointed at me, and then pointed at the beginning of the empty check-in line.

I squinted at him confused and thought to myself, is it possible that he is trying to tell me to walk through the empty line? He pointed at the empty line again. He’s joking, right?  I looked at him for a few moments more, waiting for him to laugh out “Just joking!” and walk with me to the check-in booth as we laughed together. However, I quickly realized from his serious look that he was definitely not joking.

He actually wanted me to drag my heavy bags through an empty line for the sake of following a policy he was trained and accustomed to adhering to—even though it really made no sense. He was trained to only assist customers that stood in line, and it was apparent that he could not approve any bypasses or shortcuts--even if I was the only one in front of him. I thought to myself "he is the Policy Police."

 With a deep sigh, I shook my head in frustration and dragged my two heavy suitcases behind me with my computer bag and purse draped around each shoulder towards the beginning of the empty check-in line. I had to snake through over 20 turns of empty lines to get to the check-in counter. All while the representative had walked back behind the white counter only to stare at me, the sole person maneuvering the line, as I struggled to get my two suitcases around each curve. With every turn I made, he grew more and more satisfied because I was obeying his approved policy.

I finally got to the end of the line and stopped behind a red bolded message on the floor that said, “Please wait here to be called.” I shot him a look and locked eyes trying to silently communicate, “I followed your senseless policy, what should I do now?”

“May I help you?” he asked politely with a strong Japanese accent.  

His assistance was my reward for following the approved policy. This is how he was taught to do his job. Even though the policy made no sense, and it will never make any sense, it was the only process he was comfortable following, and therefore he was determined to guard it.

As I worked around the world, I experienced many “Petty, Pointless, Preposterous, Policies and Procedures.” I found that organizations follow and protect the strangest, inefficient policies. However, when I try to help them change, the immediate response is resistance. I would usually ask, “Who came up with this policy?” and “When was it created?” The answer is usually “We are not sure, but this is how we have always done it.” Somehow, this answer is enough for many people to accept and continue following the current processes, policies, and procedures diligently, blindly, and protectively.

I am always amazed that these answers are good enough for individuals to accept the status quo and, in many cases, not to challenge it or try to drive change. 

By interacting with these individuals often, I have learned that at least one to three things usually cause their resistance:

  • Fear of Change – Change, no matter what kind, is always frightening. It is more comfortable for people to remain in their old ways rather than taking a risk to improve whatever it is that needs to change. Additionally, change can also threaten cultures and thus the fear of it is even more deeply rooted. However, no change means no innovation, and without that, our lives, our organizations, and our countries will become outdated and suffer.
  • Fear of making mistakes – When we initiate change, there is always the risk of making mistakes. In order to avoid that risk, the Policy Police just stick to the safe processes they’re used to. These processes may be causing the operation to be slow, wasteful, and outdated, but it is safe and familiar.
  • Avoiding extra work – Change is usually inconvenient, and it is far less work for the Policy Police to operate within the comfort zone even when it makes no sense. Their thought is, “Why create more work with change?” They would rather just deal with it than put in the effort to improve it. However, again, change is necessary for growth and therefore so is the inconvenience and work change requires.

We are living in a world that is changing dramatically and at an increasingly fast pace.  To stay up to date and competitive as individuals, teams, organizations, and countries, we need to challenge the processes, policies, and procedures that we have set in stone. We need to drive change in order to improve our organizations and the world.

Below are three ways we can drive change when we find ourselves following the “Petty, Pointless, Preposterous, Policies and Procedures:”

  • Always, Always Question The Norm - When being faced with absurd norms and “Petty, Pointless, Preposterous, Policies and Procedures” our first and favorite words should be “why?” and “why not?”  Why are things the way they are? Do they make sense? Are they serving us? If not, then why not change them? And what needs to be done to drive efficiency?
  • Don’t Be the Policy Police – We need to be reflective and realize when we’re guarding outdated policies. Anytime we find ourselves policing a “Petty, Pointless, Preposterous, Policies and Procedures” we must focus on finding solutions, shattering the norm and creating a new, more effective and efficient process. We must open our eyes and not blindly follow what we were told just because it is the set policy. We must be the people who dare to drive change. Nothing is set in stone.
  • Bring the Entrepreneurship and Creativity to Any Operation - Even at an airline check-in desk, it is critical to empower employees to think of solutions and encourage them to be creative. Greatness does not happen when we accept broken policies; rather, greatness comes with challenging and evolving them. Everyone should be allowed and encouraged to embrace their creativity to innovate and push the limits of their organization.

The Petty, Pointless, Preposterous, Policies and Procedures are roadblocks to innovation and success and should never be accepted. As people who are eager for success, we must never accept “no” or “this is how we’ve always done it” for an answer. Change is the root of growth, and when we see people or organizations resisting it, we must be the ones to initiate it or empower others to do so.  


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