My friend Bob once told me, “Sometimes when they say jump, I ask ‘How high?’ But sometimes I ask, ‘How high, and in what direction, and do you care if I bump into anything in flight, and am I on leave from my other duties while in flight, or am I expected to serve two masters during the jump, and why can’t you guys get your acts together before you come up with these harebrained ideas?’ ”
I love Bob, but in my humble opinion, he can be conversationally challenged. I think he might get better job reviews if he posed his questions in terms of balancing the innate tensions between performance and conformance so he could help support his organization’s efficiency goals while also delivering compliant and auditable solutions.
Now, we’ve all been tempted to ask, “Why can’t you get your act together?” and to assume that it is someone else’s job to have aligned your requirements. But the reality is that when we’re faced with a set of compliance requirements that impact how efficiently we do our core jobs, we have to choose between several options:
1. Flounder about for a while (be inefficient) and ultimately fail to meet one or more sets of requirements (be noncompliant)
2. Refuse to waste time reconciling the requirements and instead do our core jobs with as little effort as possible (be efficient) while ignoring or under-delivering on one set of requirements (be non-compliant)
3. Thoroughly address the compliance requirements (be compliant) to the detriment of other activities (be inefficient)
4. Find a way to be both efficient and compliant.
Options 1 - 3 can ultimately be bad for your career. So, your best option is to either find a way to be both efficient and compliant (and get credit for it!) or to make sure that those who measure your performance are well-aware of the compromises that must be made, and why, and who authorized those compromises. The accompanying chart illustrates these options.
Clearly, Option 4 is the goal your organization’s leadership wants you to aim for. It’s your goal, too. If you’re faced with inherently conflicting requirements, your best bet for reaching your goal is probably not to use inflammatory words such as “harebrained ideas.” (Sorry, Bob.) Instead, consider this approach for focusing and framing the issue that needs to be resolved:
• Borrow terms from the language of management (“performance and conformance” and “balancing inherent tensions”) to frame the situation.
• Borrow a time-honored management tool (like the 2x2 matrix used in the chart) to illustrate available options.
• Treat those who need to be involved in reconciling conflicting requirements as a temporary team—even if this isn’t acknowledged by anyone but you.
• Clearly and succinctly state the team’s mission: “To achieve a solution that fits in Box 4 of the options chart, or to jointly develop a statement for why the team recommends aiming for Box 2 or Box 3.”
• Agree on a communication plan.
• Assume leadership of the team, even if you’re the only one who acknowledges this.
• Outline the team’s work plan for collaboratively examining options and ultimately arriving at a recommendation or solution.
Then, actively lead your team through the steps of your plan. You might not have the satisfaction of telling someone off in a clever way, but you will demonstrate a highly valued management ability.