in Leadership, Process Improvement, Quality Improvement

Don’t Just Punish Them If They Don’t Comply

I have seen organizations that do the following.

They define their work processes and implement them across the organization to get certified against a certain standard (like ISO). Standards enforce compliance and sometimes, leaders falls in a trap of linking the level of compliance with performance of individuals. This is how a “constraint” mindset works. If people don’t comply, punish them. We get so obsessed by the process adherence that we overlook the ground level issues people face.

In my book “#QUALITYtweet – 140 bite-sized ideas to deliver quality in every project”, I wrote:

If you don’t treat your process as a tool to generate quality, process has a tendency to drive you.

This is highly counter-productive in my view. Process improvement demands that improvement leaders practice an “abundance” mindset.

When people don’t follow a process, it only means that either they don’t know how to use the process or the defined process simply doesn’t work for them. In either case, it is an opportunity to improve.

Here are a few questions that can help in introspecting, when a process does not work:

  • Is this process (or a sub-process) really helping people do their job better?
  • Do people have knowledge of why this process is required and how it makes them more effective? Are they clear on the purpose of having this process?
  • Can this process (or a sub-process) be simplified further in a way that it is equally/more effective?
  • Is there a work scenario that has not been addressed by the current set of processes?
  • Do people have knowledge of how to perform the process? If no, what additional training/counseling is required? Is the necessary guidance/references available?
  • Are middle managers aligned to the organization’s vision for having processes, and are they setting the right examples for people to follow?

Bottom line: Adopt a pragmatic approach when implementing processes. When processes are not followed, ask “Why?” often, instead of punishing people right away. Get to the root of the non-compliance and you will find the actual problem. Non-compliance is just a symptom. Ask right questions, involve your people and assess if process really serves the purpose.

  1. Hey TV & everyone,
    I would like to share with you a quote from the book, which I am reading now: Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance;

    “The craftsman isn’t ever following a single line of instruction. He’s making decisions as he goes along.”

    And as Seth says, “world is not having lack of talent, but lack of artists who ship”

    So, to conclude: if we want people to ship truly remarkable work, we need to be flexible with rules and manuals imposing on them. Otherwise they will run away from the company, which will be left complaint factory workers.. Choice is ours, where we want to march on.
    Happy journey, ya all!
    .-= Ivana Sendecka´s last blog ..Well Invested Time in December 2010 =-.

    • @Ivana – Thanks Ivana, for sharing your perspective.

      I hold a strong belief that processes/standard work instructions are a “tool” that helps people become more effective. The idea of a process is not just to drive compliance (which is how it is generally perceived) but to help people focus on what is really important – i.e. adding value and shipping excellent work. All our work (as artists) is a process in one form or the other, which can always be improved. So, having a process and being conscious about it matters. As you said, flexibility is the key.

      On the other side, excessive focus on compliance to process can kill creativity. Most large organizations manage their scale (and sheer number of people they have) by ensuring rigid compliance, and in the process, turn people into well trained cogs who simply do repeatable work according to written instructions.

      So here is the bottom line: Artists leverage processes for shipping excellence. 🙂


  2. Tanmay, I love this post, it really speaks to me. Your line “When people don’t follow a process, it only means that either they don’t know how to use the process or the defined process simply doesn’t work for them. In either case, it is an opportunity to improve.”. This is the clue and probably not asked enough as the agenda leans too much on enforcing compliance. Control is overrated and I certainly agree with you that the more you enforce it, the more you curb creativity by your people.
    .-= Thabo Hermanus´s last blog ..8 Resolutions To Empower You =-.

  3. @Thabo – Thanks for stopping by and expressing yourself here, Thabo.

    In most cases, people want to change things for better, and they want to comply. Leaders just have to show them the reason why they should change. Once that buy in comes in, people use process as a tool to be more effective/creative. People don’t resist change, but how you try to change them.

    It is great to know you and I look forward to continued conversation.



  4. Great advice Tanmay, I feel the same way. It is so important to investigate the problem instead of punishing right away. By investigating the issue and asking why, you are actually doing a service to the person and helping them improve. The person will learn to respect you as a leader and not fear you. I feel this practice will make more productive, profitable, and helpful environment for workers. Great post


    • @Adam – Thanks for the affirmation and glad you liked the post. You bring out an important point of service – that is what abundance mindset is all about. To see possibilities and alternatives instead of problems.


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  • The HR Carnival January 8, 2011

    […] Tammy Vora, at QAspire Blog, points out that when companies put new processes in place they don’t always workout. The company reacts to the failed processes and often the blame gets centered on employees. Tammy points out that there is more introspection that needs to be done and you Don’t Just Punish Them If They Don’t Comply. […]