VA Scandal-When Policy trumps People

Boehner-White-House-agree-Shinseki-should-stay-on-at-VA[1]The recent scandal involving the Department of Veterans’ Affairs speaks to an issue that is not only prevalent in government-run organizations but many organizations regardless of size.  The allegations include deadly wait times and manipulation of client records according to recent reports.  In any organization, policies are needed to help provide a structure or operating procedure for basic tasks and processes associated with producing a product or service.  Unfortunately, if not properly managed, these policies can be come the golden calf of the organization resulting in such erroneous decisions as those associated with this scandal.

As a leader, we are tasked with managing not only policies but people.  I think there is a pandemic of management strategies that worship the policy with little or no regard to the people executing it or those affected by it.  Typically, organizations have managers in place to help ensure the efficient deliver of a product or service but the issue is not the policy that is implemented but those in charge of executing it.  When such constrictions are placed on an employee or group of employees, the consequences can be the death of an organization.  These policies that are the cancerous death of organizations could include those associated with production times or quality, incentive plans, processes or even human resources policies.

While there exists a need for policies and procedures, there also exists a need for team members to be able to make good judgement on the impact of those affected by the policies.  Teams should be engaged and empowered by senior executives to make such judgement calls when employees deem the impact to negatively affect a service, delivery, or end-client.  I have had experience working for organizations that valued policies over people and can attest to the miserable existence that results in such mantra.  While working in a leadership within those confines, I dreaded going to work, disdained any type of meeting, and lacked brand engagement.  After all, my views or opinions were not valued because at the end of the day because the policy is the golden rule and the most important aspect of the ethos of the company.

Evaluating your company’s priorities can be a daunting task but well worth the amount of time spent.  Ask yourself these questions to determine if you have a “Policy over People” policy:

  1. Do my team members feel empowered to make decisions that will result in the best interest of our client when needed?
  2. During meetings, does my team or I feel as though policy dictates strategy?
  3. If I were to do an audit of client complaints, what would be the percentage of complaints associated with policies being enforced where a simple work-around could have created a more pleasant client experience?

We could go even further to evaluate the use of incentive plans or bonus compensation plans being used to validate the use of policy over people, but that would open Pandora’s box.  Start with these three questions and if you find you have a problem, address it quickly, efficiently, and most importantly, NOW!

About the Writer:

13 - 1

I have a passion for driving results and have since I started my career in banking.  This blog is about that passion as well as the frustration I endures from those who do not seek results or slow down the process.

I have a degree in Marketing and a Masters in Management with an emphasis in Project Consulting.  Over his career, Trent has worked in numerous positions including sales, sales management, consulting, HR and recruiting.  I currently work as a head-hunter and project consultant, while trying to stay abreast of all of the changes in today’s workforce.

For a professional resume, click here.


$28,000 Worth of Education only Taught Me the P-Factor

A couple of weeks ago we moved and as always with the process, I found items I had forgotten about. One of these was a stack of notebooks from some of my college courses. Of course, this began a trip down memory lane of my college years. I had a number of extraordinary professors throughout my college career, however, I had one who taught me a lesson not in the text books that I have lived by since he shared it with me.

Dr. Davis was the dean of the marketing department and served as my advisor the last two years of college. He was an older gentleman with a pretty rough front but once you got to know him, he was a great guy to shoot the breeze with. He taught the more complicated marketing classes and was one always willing to challenge you if you decided to answer one of his questions. Another important fact, he loved precision; this is where the lesson came in.

Throughout college, I worked full time and went to school full time as well as serving in a couple of volunteer positions in my “free time”. So needless to say, I remained running from one place to the next, but I usually managed to get my assignments done on time and usually made A’s or high B’s.

There was one particular week when it seemed like the perfect storm had occurred. I had an audit at work which caught me off guard, two exams on the same day, as well as a paper due to Dr. Davis. At first, I thought I had it all together and would be able to remember that week as one of my triumphs. High on the endorphin known as adrenaline, I raced from task to task and ultimately found myself in Dr. Davis’s class on the day the paper was due with one major problem. I had forgotten my paper at my office. After explaining my week, Dr. Davis said I could get my paper to him the next day, no worries.

The following week, I was excited to get my paper back to see how well I had done. My best grades were always on papers and I seemed to retain more from those types of exercises than studying for tests. When I received my paper, I was devastated to see I had gotten a 68% on it. I flipped through the pages and only found one red mark where I failed to notate something. Next to the red circle was a -2 points. Other than that, I did not see anything else indicating where the 30% deficit originated. After class, Dr. Davis introduced me to the P-Factor and explained the paper was still late so it was at best going to be a 70%. I explained my reasons and his words still stick with me, “Son, in the real world, there’s the p-factor, and this time, it screwed you.”


Proper planning prevents potential and preventable problems!

This phrase has stuck with me since that day; so much so, one team I managed got it engraved on a plaque for my birthday because I always quoted it to them when they brought me one of those “stop drop and roll” requests.

Think about the last crisis you had. How much of it could have been avoided by some diligent planning? In the next post, we will pick this apart a bit more. Between now and then, be thinking of some of your more recent crises and how some good planning could have helped mitigate the magnitude.

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

For my professional resume, click here.

Why You SHOULD “Date” Those Who Report to You

Why You SHOULD “Date” Those Who Report to You!

Posted on April 21, 2011 by wtrentcotton

One of the most misunderstood leadership concepts surrounds recruiting. Most managers botch the recruiting function in two ways:

  1. They are reactionary to openings
  2. Once someone has joined, they stop recruiting

In essence, recruiting is much like dating and the relationship we have with our team members can function a lot like a marriage. The cycle is incredibly similar. Let’s just look at behaviors during the dating cycle vs. marriage.

Dating Marriage
You eagerly wait to answer the phone when the “love interest” calls. You will answer the phone, but the excitement is gone. You tend to see it more as a task to be completed.
You go out of your way to communicate your feelings and reassure your “love interest” of where they stand. You assume that since you said “I do” there should not be a need to reinforce this phrase. I mean after all, you wear the ring every day right!?
You are intimately aware of each little behavior and constantly analyze whether this is a good thing or bad thing in terms of your relationship. Again, you said “I do” so some things can be ignored as “everyday life”. You discount things as a mood swing or bad day.
No gift is out of the question. Anything to show your affection. You even go so far as to notice what type of drink they like or where they like to shop. Your gift is the roof over the head or the house being clean or in some of the more serious cases, the fact you’re still around.

Now, I am not in any way saying the marriage column is indicative of my marriage or how any marriage should be. I am also not endorsing any sort of real dating of any of your team members because that ultimately leads to disaster, but hopefully you get the point. Now, let’s talk about the two mistakes.

Reactionary Recruiting

Granted, there are many times where an opening catches everyone off guard. With this said, however, as a leader, you must accept the simple fact at some point, you will have an opening on your team at some point. So if we know this is an inevitable truth of leadership, we should take the notion to always be recruiting right?

Most of the successful leaders I have worked with have a “hit list” of prospective employees. Although they may not have a position currently available, they make time every week and/or month to meet with the perspective A-Players in their market. As a recruiter, I can tell you this is the best strategy as it provides you a very non-intrusive manner to build a relationship with a perspective candidate. There’s an added benefit in being able to meet with members of the competition to gain market intelligence as well. So when you look at it from a practical stand point, this ideology is a win/win situation for any leader!

Continuous Recruiting

The other pitfall to avoid is stopping the recruiting process once the candidate is hired. In fact, you should, as a leader, always be in recruiting mode. You could go on as an ostrich with your head in the hole of daily activities and ignore possible warning signs of one of your team member’s impending departure, or you could make it a daily goal to constantly recruit your team be more of aware of potential members at risk.

Think back to your most recent recruiting win. Chances are, your “6th sense” as a leader was incredibly heightened to every little twitch in the candidate’s behavior. You were more in tune with changes in inflection of their voice, behavior changes, and even nonverbal cues. This is normal because at the time, this was someone you really wanted so you naturally became more aware of each little idiosyncrasy that would either confirm or challenge the recruiting process.

Now, think of how you are with your team. Are you as aware of such minor changes? Unfortunately, once someone joins our team, we have a tendency to get into a routine and assume all is good, thus numbing our leadership antennas to potential changes in our team members. This is not a good thing. It is this type of behavior which typically fosters the phrase, “I never saw it coming” after a loss. Ironically, if we were to continue the recruiting process, even after someone is hired, we would remain consistently aware of our team members’ state of mind at all times. How do you do this? The same way you courted them!

  • Make it a point to be aware of where your member’s state of mind is which will require you to be engaged with them
  • Look for ways and/or times you can “date” your team members. This could include a lunch to just catch up on them, non work related.
  • Little gifts are always great. This could be something as simple as a handwritten note to thank them for a job well done on a project or a gift card to their favorite joint. This doesn’t have to be anything expensive in terms of money, but needs to be expensive in terms of your thought and time in the effort.
  • Frequent communication is key. Try not to be one of those leaders/managers who only talks to their team when there’s a numbers update or a crisis to manage. Take some time to just “hang out” with them.
  • Be spontaneous. An idea for your team might be bringing in a Wii or Playstation with a sports game and having a challenge during the lunch hour where you bring lunch in. Cut out one afternoon and take everyone to a movie or …. Fill in the blank. Again, it’s not hard and doesn’t need to be expensive in a dollars sense. Showing you care will go a long way with your team.

So, take some time and think of ways you can date your prospects and date your current team. You’ll have a healthier team, become a better leader, and who knows, you might actually find you enjoy the people who work for you. If not, then, well we’ll talk about how to divorce team members in another post! Happy dating!

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

For my professional resume, click here.