Challenging the Process When You Have to Follow the Rules

Challenging the Process When You Have to Follow the Rules

Ken Hurdle

Q: How do you encourage leaders to Challenge the Process when they are in an industry or position that requires them to "follow the rules"?

A: My fellow employees generally accept and embrace the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®, except for Challenge the Process. State employees exhibit resistance to this practice because they feel that they don't have control over their organization's policies and processes. They feel that Challenge the Process means resisting public policy, which in some cases is state law. While they can't challenge everything, I try to explain that they can challenge things that are under their control (e.g., procedures, recognition, meeting facilitation). What else can I say to convince them of this key leadership practice?

Working for The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the largest state department in California, we too have faced resistance to the practice of Challenge the Process. The LPI results from our various leadership programs reflect a "reluctance" to accept this concept as a department. Many of the participants feel they are limited by our mission of public safety because they are focusing on overall organizational policies and procedures. The practice is seen as a defiance of authority and/or the refusal to comply with a rule, procedure, or edict. Their initial responses to mere mention of the practice often include: 'We can't change the Penal Code or violate it!', 'We can't let the offenders run free!', and 'We have to deal with the union!'

We have been successful in getting participants to embrace this practice by demonstrating how their role fits into the overall vision, mission, and plan for the department. For example, our mission as a department is to provide public safety. If we start at the top, the world wants to be safe. The President wants a safe country. The Governor wants a safe state. Our department Secretary fulfills the need for public safety by ensuring that offenders sentenced to state institutions do not escape or are released before their sentence is completed. Our wardens and superintendents make sure that their facilities are safe for both staff and offenders. And as an individual in your area of responsibility, you are applying the policies, procedures, and practices that add to the safety of all of the folks in the world.

So within our organization, we've further defined the practice by asking such questions as: 'How can you fine-tune what you do to make things just a little bit better?', 'How do you monitor and adjust what you do on a daily basis to be more efficient?', or 'Where is the kaizen*?' We tell participants that when they do that one little thing better, they have moved beyond the status quo. They have Challenged the Process and acted as a leader. This is the breakthrough moment. Our participants have had great success with developing challenges for their areas of responsibility because now it is not about "What I CAN'T do", but "What I CAN do."

* kaizen: continuous incremental improvement of an activity to eliminate waste (Source:



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