Do your management and staff follow these rules?
As mentioned, walking the talk is both extremely important and extremely challenging. The more condensed and precise the instructions, the higher the chance of compliance success. In any case, years of relentless effort will be necessary, as we shall describe in the section of deployment below. The best description I have found to date was contributed by Malte Foegen in our joint work on implementing CMMI. It is the example of teaching your kids to brush their teeth, which would run approximately as follows:
The challenge would begin with you as parents providing the equipment: toothbrush, toothpaste, water, glass and a place for execution and storage in the family bathroom. You would create an environment where your team can be successful. Next you would issue instructions how to brush those teeth, you would illustrate the movements and sequence. You would issue policies. Then you would supervise the early attempts intensively, to make sure things are done right. You would provide training, would supervise and review the work. Would would set objectives, for example, regarding the frequency and length of time. You would set performance targets. Gradually, you would reduce the degree of supervision as progress and self motivation became apparent. You would switch to periodic reviews as confidence grows. Next, you would send your kids to the dentist from time to time and integrate the recommendations made into the effort. You would subject the work results to external reviews and integrate the findings into a continuous improvement program. This simple outline of how parents teach their children the habit of brushing their teeth is a powerful summary of what management has to do to achieve compliance in their organization.
To achieve compliance, management has to lead the way and ensure that an environment and tools exist where its employees can be successful. It must break down the items of compliance into digestible units and invest considerably in communication. Staff must be able to find the information easily, say in websites, webcasts or e-learning sessions, but it must also receive instructions proactively in training sessions, roadshows, mailings and meetings with their management. These sessions must answer questions remaining and take up improvement ideas, but must also demonstrate consistently that this is serious and that those who do not follow get into trouble. Sometimes, some well publicized sanctions will be necessary. And these messages must be broadcast repeatedly until the organization begins to truly walk the talk and a continuous improvement cycle begins to show results, forming the basis for further communication and reinforcement.
Managers failing in this area sometimes argue that rapid changes in the business are to blame. Wrong. The fundamentals may have gradually evolved over time, but they have not changed. A company justifies its existence by serving its customers. You write proposals, you sign contracts, you manage projects, you manage suppliers, you take risks, you fix problems, you bill invoices, you get feedback on how you are doing - that has not changed. Neither have the realities of profit and loss accounts, balance sheets investments and cash flows changed. You manage people, who need to be paid, trained, supervised. If you annoy your customers, suppliers and staff long enough, they will leave. There are no excuses for lack of compliance, which is always both a management and an individual failure. It is typically rooted in a combination of overcomplexity, short term orientation, the wrong roll out approach, a lack of effort and a lack of priority.
To be fair, there are diminishing returns to ensuring compliance: initially even a small effort significantly increases compliance, but with every unit of increased effort, the compliance rate increases in ever smaller steps and may never reach 100%. How good is good enough? 80%,90% or 99.9% compliance? Every management team must decide for itself and face the consequences. What should be avoided, however, is that the law of diminishing returns is used as an excuse for paralysis.