Compliance is a Poor Substitute for Responsibility

My recent Quality Digest article (A Three-Word Phrase that Destroys Service Systems) alluded to the problems of inspection, audit and other activities that seek compliance.  They destroy service while pushing out responsibility.  For the audit and inspection mindset there is trouble lurking behind every corner.

Too often people doing the real work are forced into doing things that must be done for compliance even when they make little sense for what they do.  You hear the workers say “we have to do this to comply with audit” and grudgingly move on.  The auditor smiles and puts a check on the list and off to commit more evil.  Some workers go back to doing what makes sense to them as they know the work and issues better than the infrequent auditor or they may continue to do what they have been badgered to do to survive.

Management wants control and inspection/compliance seem to fit this mindset.  This kills responsibility and costs alot to deliver.  Instead, managers should just say we don’t trust people and we are willing to put employees we don’t trust in front of customers . . . they are cheap ya’ know.  Do not worry, these people management doesn’t trust are being heavily watched by the inspection police so we have you covered.  Don’t worry about the cost, we have your back.

The management mindset is filled with control that increases costs.  Seek compliance, not responsibility is the mantra.  Customers do mind paying more for all this compliance.  Don’t put a shmuck in front of a customer that you don’t trust and for heaven’s sake don’t make them pay for the poor system design that delivers pathetic service.

95% of your organization’s problems are down to the system, not the individual.  This presents a management paradox and a different approach to business and government improvement.  The system you put workers in dictating performance.  You can trust workers if you give them a good system to work in, if the system is poorly designed waste begets waste and compliance and inspection have to sort out the “cheaters.”

Responsibility needs to be designed in and much of the inspection and audit (especially that dictate system design) needs to be designed out.  Indeed compliance is a poor substitute for responsibility.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for  Learn more about the 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at LinkedIn at

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