Why punish everybody because of one incident?

August 3, 2010

There are evil people in this world. But there are a lot more people who just make honest mistakes.

I recently helped a client install a CRM program. Halfway through the week-long implementation, I screwed up. Big time. I lost every contact, every note, and every detail that I had installed to date. Publicly. In front of a VP in the company. It really really sucked. What if they had shut down the program? What if they had kicked me out of their office? What if they had gone back to the Rolodex/Outlook/scratchpad method that had worked for years? They would have punished the entire department for my mistake. (They didn’t, by the way, and are even happy with the system–imagine!)

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is a massive, costly example of punishing the rest of us for a single incident. 9/11 was a tragedy, in which 2,995 people were needlessly killed. Now everybody who flies in the US, everybody who leaves or enters the country, and everybody who pays taxes to the United States government is being punished.

Every year, 40,000 people are killed in traffic accidents in the US. What if we learned a lesson from 9/11 and gave the TSA the authority to protect the citizens from vehicular death? Where would that lead? Would we have speed limits lowered to 25 mph on freeways? Drunk driver checks before getting on the Brooklyn Bridge? The absurd possibilities abound.

When you are implementing a new system, or maintaining an old one, often times it seems easier to lock things down or create procedures or forms or permissions to ensure <bad thing> doesn’t happen again. Don’t do it. Or if you must, at least carefully consider the ramifications. The simple act of locking things down can negatively affect your business.

The hard costs are fairly easy to count–security personnel, barbed wire fences, hi-tech locks, fingerprint detectors, etc. But the soft costs are where it really gets you. People in the system will feel less trusted, forcing them out of the tribe. When they need to get something done in their normal course of business, they spend extra time trying to get permission to do it. The bureaucracy stacks up, and you start to need managers to manage the permissions of your employees. People start to feel like they are better then someone else because they have access to privileged information. New code is harder to write, because it has more complexity. Tools are duller because they might hurt somebody otherwise. A machine is underutilized because it was used incorrectly once and only trained personnel can use it.

What are the costs of locking things up and tying things down? Do you have any experience supporting openness? Do you have any experience supporting closing it down?

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One Response to “Why punish everybody because of one incident?”

  1. Tyrel Says:

    I’m Beee-ack!


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