I witnessed a phenomenal, enigmatic, problem-solving attempt that ultimately failed miserably because of “Policy.”
Without going into boring details, this “training organization” is facing a shift in the demand of the services/classes they offer and were trying to “fix” this problem . . . their customers weren’t showing up anymore.
30 minutes into the meeting, I realized that 100% of the proposed “solutions” had to do with the goal of changing the behavior of the customers through more creative marketing . . . an attempt to cajole the customers to accept the very services they were abandoning. A hammer looking to drive a nail.
“Let’s convince these customers that the alternatives ways they are using to fulfill their needs (Satisfy their Professional requirement for Continuing Education) aren’t as good as our way.”
So we asked: “What ARE these alternative ways, and why are they stealing our customers?”
On-line classes are less expensive and more convenient because the busy professional can take them ANY time from ANYWHERE.
FREE options were popping up all around the marketplace as local vendors realized that they could capture an audience of these professionals simply by sponsoring (paying the instructors, room rents, and providing lunch) and these professionals would show up because they need the approved CE hours.
Me: “So . . . Should we offer on-line options?”
Committee Chair: “We already do offer some of these, but they’re not very effective and we cannot compete with the other on-line providers on cost . . . and our POLICY is that many of our courses MUST be taken in our facility classroom.”
Me: “OK . . . Cost seems to be coming up as an issue both for the customers and your organization . . . Could we defray some if not all of the cost by seeking vendor sponsorships?”
Committee Chair: “OH! WE can’t do that! It’s ALWAYS been our POLICY not to allow vendors any access to our class attendees because we think that will detract from the quality of the classroom experience here.”
Me: “That doesn’t seem to be a problem with classes I offer at Pareto realty with Vendor Sponsors because we only allow vendor presentations at the END of the session. Could we rent our space to the vendors who are offering these classes free so as to gain some income?”
Committee Chair: “OH! NO! Our POLICY prohibits any but our own chosen instructors in our facility for continuing education classes.”
Me: “Why? All CE instructors have to be certified to teach approved courses.”
Committee Chair: “Because we would not then have CONTROL over the quality of the classroom experience for the attendees?”
Another Person: “Could we offer classes at more flexible days/times? Nights? Weekends?”
Committee Chair (Looking very unsettled): “Well . . . No!”
Committee Chair: “Because I like only working Monday through Friday and go home at 5.” (A Personal POLICY)
Me: “We all know the definition of insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results . . . and it seems to me that POLICY may be the problem we need to face – I believe that a change in POLICY is what this organization likely needs to bring our wayward customers back.”
You could have heard a pin drop in that room for @ 2 minutes
Committee Chair (squirming): “Um . . . Well! If y’all want to make a proposal, our board Liaison can take it to the Board meeting this month”
and so it happened . . .
How strong is this POLICY?
My past experience with this organization tells me that adherence to POLICY and resistance to change POLICY is sacred . . . and that POLICY CHANGE has virtually ZERO possibility of happening . . . and that this loyalty to POLICY might even be strong enough to be the death of the organization’s validity/existence.
People and organizations create POLICY for good reason. It’s the holder of the standard . . . It’s what defines consistency and quality so the organization’s customers can know what to expect in the way of service EVERY time. In this way, policy is our friend.
When market demands shift, policy can be a killer for even the strongest organizations.
THIS can be the differentiating factor that allows small, upstart organizations to seize large chunks of market share from the dinosaurs.
For an organization to consistently perform over time, the policy must ALSO perform consistently over time.
Especially when it defines that same thing we’re doing while expecting different results.
So . . . Is your Policy your friend . . . or your albatross?