BLUF: Is it all right to ignore a company standard operating procedure that is not effective and detrimental to the company’s mission?
Background: My Company has a policy that prohibits sales representatives from directly contacting support people in our logistics department. The policy is to e-mail  a specific person in our administration department and have them e-mail  the logistics department. So for example is a sales representative has a question(s) regarding a customer they must go to their administrator with the questions who will then forward the questions to logistics. The response from logistics is forwarded back through the administrator to the sales rep. Often, the response generates more questions and the process continues. What should take less than 10 minutes to accomplish, instead takes 8 or more hours.   I specifically have a sales representative, one of the top representatives in our company, who routinely ignores the procedure. I am fine with it. He has excellent people skills, gets the job done, and makes the company a lot of money. Most importantly, his customers love him because he gets things done.   Last time I checked we are in business because of our customers. However, I constantly get complaints that he is “not following the system”. 
I have discussed the procedure with the people in charge of it and they have no justifiable reason why the procedure exists. I get “that is the way it is”.   I know as a manager I cannot pick what company procedures to follow. However, I also know you have to decide what you are willing to get in trouble for. If my team exceeds plan, which we do year in and year out, is it all right if our methods are a little outside of what company bureaucrats say it should be?   Keep in mind I am not talking about crossing some ethical line to do it, just ignore a poorly conceived procedures that get in the way of our mission.

jrosenau's picture

that's a hard one.  I've been on both sides of that issue.  I've been a support person and needed a procedure to be followed to prevent an overwhelming number of requests from individuals on a team (that's usually why those policies are put in place).  I've also had to deal with middle-men go-betweens and it can be very frustrating. 

If you think it's having an adverse affect on your team, I would try to quantify it so that you can use that to help others understand the impact of the policy.

Also, it's all about people.  Build relationships with those in administration and logistics that can influence that policy.  You need to understand their view of the policy.  This will help you understand the policy and how to persuade them to alter the policy so it's easier for your team to follow and still benefit the other 2 teams.


Jrlz's picture

Thank you for the advice.  I have built good relationships with those in charge of the policy, but have not quantified the effect that it has.  I will get to work on that and then re-approach them on the policy again.  This time with data in hand.  I understand the not wanting to be overwhelmed with communications and this has been raised as one reason for the policy.  I have pointed out that a the person in logistics will recieve an e-mail either way, be it from administration or a sales person.  The work load remains the same for the logistics person.  However, with our current policy we are increasing the work load of the administraiton person by added them to the process.  Perhaps that is my hook?  Allowing the sales person to directly contact logistics will create less of a work load on administration, which is already overwhelmed. 

Thank you for the help

jrosenau's picture

Also, make sure there are clear expectations.  Part of the problem with teams feeling overwhelmed from both sides is that there is no definition as to when the team should send/expect a response.  Ensure that you include "we would like a response that the issue is being looked at within 1 hour and that communication will include an estimated time to completion. "  Depending on the types of requests, you may create a generic limit or make more specific limits.  Listing expectations will also show that you are taking other's concerns into account.  Those time limits can then be used as a negotiation point to engage the other teams.  The "hook", as you say.


buhlerar's picture

You say "they have no justifiable reason why the procedure exists" and yet they are reluctant to change it.  All procedures degrade over time (entropy) but bad procedures degrade quickly (sometimes immediately) and this seems to have done so.  You need to approach them in a spirit of "this procedure isn't working but I may not have a complete understanding of your concerns about changing it."  If you approach it with an attitude of "you need to justify the procedure to me or I won't follow it" don't expect a lot of cooperation.

As for reasons, I can imagine they might have had a problem in the past with salespeople going to the wrong support person on several ocassions and they spent a lot of time redistributing work among themselves.  Or salespeople constantly going to one person they knew (or trusted) and the work was very unevenly distributed because there weren't clear lines of responsibility.  Or perhaps they are trying to track metrics, etc. (# of requests received/answered) and can't reliably do this unless it all funnels through someone who tracks it (i.e. your salesperson may be taking bonus money out of these guys' pockets because their work isn't being counted).  Or maybe they had complaints from sales in the past about requests taking too long and they had no handle on the volume or aging of requests so they couldn't monitor the responsiveness of their staff.  I'm not saying any of these things actually happened, just saying there are plenty of possible explanations.  You would obviously need to put safeguards into place to address any of their concerns, whatever they are.  Believe me, there is no one who cringes at “that is the way it is” more than me, but your challenge is to find out the real concern so you can propose something that addresses it(each problem has it's own solution).

Maybe you could say something like "listen, Bob, I know you have concerns about Jane bypassing the procedure and going to straight to logistics support staff.  Can we take a look at the process so we can come up with some way to address both of our concerns?"  Maybe you can create a solution for quick turnaround stuff where the salespeople can get trained on finding their own answers (e.g. access to online system, etc.) or one person on your team tracks progress, or you just cc the administrator so they can track the work but still go directly to the person.  Obviously depends on the underlying issue.

Jrlz's picture

Thank you for the responses, a lot of great ideas here.  The MT community rocks!

karl66's picture

In your post, you seem to be explaining that the "Administrators" server no purpose other than being 'man in the middle'.

That, as has been mentioned, is a waste of time and resources, and for that, a "thats the way it's always been done" is THE invitation to a justified request to change the policy. 

If, however, it is the role of the "Administrators" to channel and funnel the inquiries, and to keep the easy and frequently asked stuff away from the logistics people, then my recommendation would be make explicit exceptions to the policy for cases where there's both a good reason, and whats more important, for a pre selected group of sales people that have been classified as 'champions' or something the like. These would be the experienced folks who get permission to bypass the regular process for cases where they have done the applicable 'due diligence' and can reasonably assume that the question they does, in fact, need to go to logistics, and can not be answered or reasonably helped by an Administrator.


KTatley's picture
Training Badge

Whatever the reasons for the policy, logic would seem to dictate that there has got to be a better way to get good customer service and hence sales. There are of course two sides and effecting a change across departments can be challenging.


I suggest using two of the Manager Tools podcasts to try improve your situation:

1. What's your visual:

-To motivate change you need a strong emotive demonstration of why the status quo needs to be changed. I'd suggest something like a view from the customers perspective: Customers don't know what's going on inside the company - they only see the service they do (or don't) get. If you can show the current level of service that your customers get relate it to something personal to senior management (imagine going into a golf shop and you ask a question about a golf club and they reply 8 hours later). Perhaps contrast it to the non-standard procedure results. And/Or extrapolate what this means to sales - one of the best and easiest way to get more sales is to have excellent, prompt customer service - I've delivered a 30% increase in sales using this technique.


2. Identification of improvements to a regular procedure & engagement to the change process - Can use the Hotwash process as described on the podcast.


Have a listen to these two podcasts and let us know how you get on.