Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Detrimental Impact of Too Many Rules

I understand that rules are necessary. A company has to have guidelines, processes, a way-we-do-things. I appreciate that these rules are styled to keep the company out of dutch, keep its people in line. But, there's something wrong, terribly wrong, with the way some organizations simply cannot think of enough things to tell their people not to do.

I'm about half way through with Seth Godin's new book Poke The Box. There's a chapter titled, "Allowed (not allowed)." Here at [FIND] Investigations we actually have an allowed list. The things our investigators can do is a lengthy enumeration, and there is no foreseeable end. Full disclosure: we do have a company ethics and style guide, but it is for inspiration, not to shackle.

If we adhered to a list of things that aren't allowed, we'd be just like every other investigative agency. We'd produce reports that look like every other investigative agency's reports.

Excessive regulation is a knee-jerk response to fear and lack of trust. It's an anti-creative measure that stifles real thinking and analysis in favor of simply following procedure. And, I would argue, this is a huge step towards mediocrity.

I have a long history in a very specific type of consulting business. There, regulations have taken on a life of their own. The Uniform Standards of Professional Practice for this industry is barely contained in a document that is so tediously long that there is an additional tediously long addendum of advisory opinions to explain what the standards actually mean. Oh yeah...then there's the equally tedious, long FAQ to help one understand the advisory opinions that explain the.... This document is re-written often.

There are so many specific regulations that all reports are starting to look exactly alike. Regulated sameness in that industry is now more important than a credible work product. If a report meets all of the technical requirements, it is a quality report, according to regulators. Seth Godin says, "If you have quality and they have quality and that's all either of you offers, then you're selling a commodity, and I'll take cheap, please."

Luckily, this does not yet apply to the investigative world. Our clients hire us because they value our opinion.

At [FIND] Investigations, we like to focus on innovation and initiative. We ask our analysts to weigh and consider the information they discover. We study our subjects and all information we gather about them. Once we've considered and studied, we then craft a report that tells a story, much like a journalist would. We incorporate facts and timelines and then craft a narrative. We trust our analysts to approach each assignment with initiative and curiosity. We expect them to be creative. We encourage it, by setting them free.

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