Misalignment and Policy by Lapse – A deadly duo


It is Friday the 13th today – maybe the best day to write this post after all .

First I need to turn back the clock to the 1980s.

In my teens, the most popular car in India was ” The Ambassador”. It was so popular that the company just did some weak spot welding to barely keep the engine in place, and slapped on 4 tires and let you take delivery of the car . Buyers then took it to a workshop to do better welding, do wheel balancing and all of that . That was normal – and till I moved to USA, that was all I expected of a car buying experience . I have driven those new Ambassador cars a few times from the dealership before taking them for wheel balancing and other fixes – and that caused this huge mental block for me about all kinds of misaligned things. It was further reinforced in the automobile engineering classes in college .

Then I did my MBA in mid 90s – and the only thing that stayed with me throughout my life after that was the concept of “policy by lapse”. In short – it essentially means “doing nothing” as the strategic response to a given problem . The example my professor used was of the former prime minister of India who took that strategy when some Hindu extremists destroyed Babri Masjid . The guy didn’t do a thing – and is “alleged” to have said something like this . “I am not indecisive . I consciously decided to not take any decisions at this moment”. Needless to say – I have a serious aversion to “policy by lapse ” ever since that lecture .

But it was only after I started working that I realized that it is rather common to run into both “misalignment” and “policy by lapse” for a given problem . And you can imagine what that did/does to me 🙂

Both are issues that take some top down management attention to solve . And you can’t take your eyes off for long – it needs micro corrections all the time , just as a perfectly wheel balanced car cannot drive straight for long without micro corrections .

I have given up on annual goal setting being a useful strategy – in my line of work , no goal remains static for that long . Along the same lines – i am not a fan of annual performance reviews either . These rules were set at a time when world changed slower – and now they are useless . The only reason they exist today , I think, is because it is a “scalable” process . Not because it works .

Whatever changes to goals happen at a lower level of org hierarchy – it should be aligned with goals of the company . Every goal should have a clear rationale on why it matters to the success of the company – not the success of a product , not the success of finance department – the success of the whole company . Otherwise , don’t set that goal . People like stretch goals – but that is not a reason to be unreasonable and reckless . It is a serious credibility loss for a leader if he or she cannot explain their direction in a rational way.

If you as an employee get an unreasonable goal – go right ahead and challenge it (Politely ). Ask the person who set it, to explain it in terms of how it helps the company in tangible terms . Either you will learn something you didn’t know before, or the other person will have that pleasure (or pressure , in some cases) . At a minimum you will know whether it is a hill that is worth your while to try capturing . If you don’t get satisfied with the answer – make a decision on whether you are going to disagree and commit , or quit . Do everyone (including you) a favor by NOT contributing consciously to misalignment .

It is not pleasant or efficient or even safe to drive a seriously misaligned car – and it is not easy or fun to work in a misaligned organization without widespread confusion and frustration . Not only will the goal not be met – you risk losing your best talent in the process if you keep doing that , on top of looking stupid for not meeting the goals in the first place . It is a high speed race to the bottom – and it is a race you can choose not to compete in .

Then there is the “policy by lapse” thing . Hope is not a strategy – and if you believe it is , I have a dead rich friend in Nigeria who has left you a large sum of money . Just send me your bank user is and pass code to make the transfer 🙂

I have encountered “Policy by lapse” several times at work , and can’t remember it succeeding even once . I do have several examples and battle scars of cases where it was the chosen strategy to deal with misalignment . And I have later regretted every such occasion I have decided to not take this issue head on . If you keep driving a car with misaligned wheels for a long time , it gets worse – not better . If you think it gets better – I have a couple of bridges to sell you right after you sign up to get the money from my dead friend in Nigeria 🙂

If people swap a few “what” questions they routinely ask in corporate world with “why” questions – this problem can be prevented easily . But even if you can’t prevent it – at least try not to use “policy by lapse” to fix it .

Trust me – remember I am the dude who sold you the nice bridges that you paid for with the money from my dead buddy in Nigeria . And I have some freeways I can sell you to go with those nice bridges too 🙂 .

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3 thoughts on “Misalignment and Policy by Lapse – A deadly duo

  1. Great thoughts Vijay!

    “Do everyone (including you) a favor by NOT contributing consciously to misalignment .” I believe I do everyone — except long/mid term goals of companies/products I love/admire — a favor by contributing** consciously to misalignment. Short term, my conscious contribution(or lack of), helps everyone & makes a lot of people happy. Several smart people think/hope things would just work out automagically in near future, Policy by Lapse. These people – being smart – knew already the welding issues but they just don’t have time to fix them. With time, because they’re already aware, they(hope) would be fixed;no need to raise a big hue & cry on trivial welding issues they argue. Welding in my opinion is one of the fundamental operations to hold the parts together. Shouldn’t that process be more robust even before manufacturing the individual parts? I wonder.

    I know you’re doing everyone a favor by writing blogs of this kind. This however is going to hardly change the people’s – very, very smart, brilliant people I’m referring here – minds. Do everything you can & then hope for the best is what I would follow. Ignore everything you can & then hope for the best is what (a majority of) others appear to follow.

    Great blog post!
    **: No “NOT”
    Best regards,
    Bala

    Like

      • Vijay,
        I’m not attending TechEd this year. Was hoping to meet you at SIT-Philly as I was planning to be in Philly during that weekend. Due to my daughter’s schedule changes, I wouldn’t be in Philly that weekend. I need to find a way to meet & chat with you sometime this year.
        Best regards,
        Bala

        Like

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