Managing to the exception is something you encounter on a daily basis. You see warnings and disclaimers all the time in the food industry and on the product that you buy. Who would have thought that Legos are a choking hazard and a rare steak is not fully cooked? Have you ever worked in an environment where they had some weird rule or restriction because someone at some point did something they shouldn’t have?
How does exception management happen and how can we fight it?
How it manifests
You’ll often see managing to the exception come about in one of three ways:
A) A project, product, or service is slow to implement because it’s not perfect. There is a demand to keep refining the process to meet the need of every possible scenario.
B) Anytime a leader lets something of small importance drive a decision of large importance.
C) Policies and procedures are written in anticipation or as a response to a one-off encounter or event.
What it does to your team
Managing to the exception can have several negative effects on your team.
- It may make them feel like you don’t trust them.
- It inevitably leads to less productivity.
- It lowers the value of other policies and procedures that are truly important.
- It may cause people to doubt your decision-making ability.
- It can make the employee feel like they are a liability and not an asset.
Call it out
It’s important to call out exceptions when you see them so that they don’t then become engrained in a project or a policy. It’s okay to say, “I think this is the exception to the rule,” during a meeting. You’ve likely seen one of these side notes or comments ending up taking over a meeting. Have the courage to speak up and nip it in the bud so that you can continue on with things that are more important. If there is still debate on the validity of the issue, bring it offline and talk with the person about their concerns.
Ask yourself if the issue or concern is a deal-breaker or not. If it is, address it on a large scale. If not, take care of the exception and move forward.
Have a look back period
A yearly review of policies and procedures is a good practice to ensure that you are not bogging your teams down with unnecessary regulations and hurdles to efficiency. What needs to be updated? What needs to be erased? Look for things that are outdated and are holding your team back.
I typically recommend a set of policies and a set of guidelines for organizations. Policies are strict tactical pieces needed to do your business. How you handle your money, ethics, information security, and safety would all be examples of policies. Guidelines would be just that. “Here are our preferences and guardrails in this situation.” Dress code, customer issues, branding standards, and vendor management would be examples here.
Ideally, your policies should be small compared to your guidelines. Both offer a standard, with guidelines offering flexibility to suit the situation while policies are set in stone. Some companies have bloated policies because they have no guidelines.
Handle the one-off and exceptions when they occur, just don’t let it drive your business and how you approach your team.
Make a better tomorrow.