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30 Nov 2015

How Rules and Processes Make Workers Less Responsible and Accountable

Rules and processes can reduce the responsibility and accountability in workers.

Rules and processes promote a parent-child relationship between the company and employees.

Rules and processes make changing company culture hard. They not only make hard-to-break habits. They make a less responsible and accountable culture.

What We Give Up as Employers

At first this is hard to see. After all, rules and processes seem to tell workers what they need to do and how managers will grade them.

This is true. What we do not see are all responsibilities and accountability we give up. The company has become the parent. The workers are now children. We even call it the “parent company.”

We give up the ability to hold workers accountable for thinking on their own. We tell them they are no longer responsible for this. They just have to follow the rules and processes.

The process becomes mechanical. No thought is needed. It is a habit, a routine. Life is anything but routine though. The unexpected happens every day.

When that happens we see what we gave up. We cannot hold workers responsible if the rules and processes do not provide for that. How can they be held accountable for something that is not accounted?

Rules and Processes Give Up Thinking

Rules and processes give up our ability to hold workers responsible and accountable for thinking:

  • That is not written down anywhere.
  • That is not part of the process.
  • No one ever communicated that to me.
  • I followed the rules (process).
  • I did what I was told (taught).

Here is the evidence. When we think about how to improve processes we think about better rules and steps. We do not think about motivating workers better to use the processes. We do not think about teaching guidelines rather than rules.

Processes and Work, Recipes and Food

“Well, Mike, how can people do a job if they do not know what the job is?” This is good theory. The state is not responsible for making sure we know our jobs as citizens. In reality, people have some idea from the title. Talented people are good at seeing what needs to be done.

That is a problem though. Rules and processes reduce the need for talent. They save labor cost. Jobs most governed by rules and processes are most likely to be computerized and robotized.

In such cases workers know the rules and processes but not the work itself. They know the recipe but not the food. Change is harder. Learning a new recipe is harder if you do not know the food.

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