Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

The Simplify Challenge–Eliminate Some Work Requirements

Every business, office and function has requirements for internal and external customers, clients and vendors to follow. Many of those requirements are a perpetual source of bad feelings between those who are irritated at having to do them and those who are irritated at having to repeatedly ask to have them done. The complaints about some requirements will sound familiar to you, no matter which side of them you are on.

*Some seem to be illogical, impractical, unreasonable, excessively time consuming or costly to those who must comply.
*One organization or office will have a very easy 1-2-3 step process while another has a long, drawn-out, complicated process for exactly the same task.
*Most procedures and requirements are not reviewed or changed, even when the situations change.
*Rarely is an explanation given for a requirement. In fact, “That’s just the way we have to do it” is the usual apologetic comment.
*Requirements that seem to be only a preference without a purpose often become lines in the dirt between people and groups.
*Many procedures and processes were established to fix a problem that happened once or twice but could have been corrected another way.
*The person who complies is often penalized with the extra work while someone who simply doesn’t do what is required is helped anyway–indicating to everyone that the requirements weren’t necessary.

 Take the Challenge To Simplify Procedures and Processes

You may not have the authority to make changes on your own. However, perhaps you can consider ways to improve some aspect of a problematic process or talk with a manager or your team about it. We want that for the requirements we are required to follow and others feel the same way.

1. Start by focusing on the procedures with which you have the most problems gaining cooperation from users. If you can change the format, timeline, wording, number of copies required or just the length of a form, it shows a good faith effort to make life and work easier.

2. Consider the origin and purpose of the procedure and see if the situation is still the same. If a procedure was developed to stop a problem, consider if the elements of the problem still exist or if there are others ways to deal with it.

3. Ask for input from those who must comply with the requirements. Some may want no formal processes at all and that probably isn’t going to happen. Nevertheless, perhaps you can find out what is bothering them the most. You may be able to make huge gains in confidence and support by working with others instead of fighting with them over a form or requirement they hate. 

4. Don’t have Spite and Malice requirements. Ask yourself if part of the reason you’re insisting you can’t change the procedure is because you’re irritated at even being questioned about it. Could you make some changes without harming effectiveness?

A woman told me she is in a fight all the time with other sections in her organization over a process she established for a relatively minor task. They call her the Queen Bee. Talking about it to me she said, “I know they hate doing what a lowly clerk asks but if they don’t, they don’t get the items and I’ve said that’s the way I want it done, so there.” That was when I decided the bee part might actually be an initial and not the entire word!

Making vendors jump through hoops seems to be an entertainment for some organizations! It’s true that if they want to do business they will have to comply. However, it seems there would be a benefit to having vendors feeling positively rather than negatively about an organization when they do their work or provide their product.

5. Don’t require even one more step than is absolutely necessary. Question every blank to be filled, every requirement, every deadline date, every approval step, every everything. For example, if there is some part of the form that will contain exactly the same material from the same people every time, could you eliminate those sections?

6. Target anything you know or think might be a unique requirement of yours or of your office. Is it really necessary to require a hard copy be submitted, when almost every other office will accept an e-file or fax? Why does your office require a notarized form and no one else does? Are some of the requirements mostly because your own office doesn’t work effectively? Consider improving that problem without punishing other people or groups.  

7. Question (gasp!) the suggestions of attorneys, HR or others who are not considering internal or external customer service. Perhaps the attorneys or other experts could have suggested another more time-effective way if they had been told it was needed. Ask for options and see if the legal or HR resource can help you find some less convoluted methods.

8. If the procedure or some aspect of it is unassailable, explain your reasons to everyone now and then. Explain to help others understand not just to justify your decisions. Regularly thank those who comply. Never let someone get into the habit of cutting corners if the corners are really needed. A good test: If a task was able to be accomplished without your usual procedures and requirements being followed, you probably can do it that way all the time with only a few adjustments.

9. Communicate. If you are going to change a procedure, explain why to avoid seeming to be capricious. If you are adding a requirement, explain that as well. Be open to talking about it and doing some negotiating rather than making every requirement and procedure an open and shut case of “Just do it.”

10. Keep challenging yourself and those with whom you work. The odds are there are some or many things you require of internal and external clients and customers that could be reduced or eliminated without reducing quality, quantity or effectiveness. Try it this week. Then, mark your calendar for about once a quarter and take the Simplify Challenge.

February 5th, 2011 Posted by | Life and Work, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers | 9 comments


  1. Is it my imagination or does this look different now (1820 hrs) than it did at 1530 when I came on duty? Tell me I’m not losing it!! HA HA! I probably am!

    This is something we do every year just about and it has helped. Some people said we HAD to do things a certain way or there would be problems, but there haven’t been and it works better.

    Comment by Mike K. | February 6, 2011

  2. Tina says: I thought everyone would be watching the Super Bowl and wouldn’t notice! Yes, I edited it after publishing it earlier. Forgive me for scaring you! 🙂 Thanks for the comment.I sent you an email. T.

    Comment by TLR | February 6, 2011

  3. Tina, I don’t think you understand my work very well. We have to make things complicated so it looks like we’re smart. One of the people I work with can take something that needs two steps and turn it into fifty steps and everyone thinks she is brilliant. I actually was told to stretch out the instructions for doing something because it didn’t look “serious” enough. We just got a new Director who says he’s going to streamline everything, so I’ll let you know how it goes!

    Comment by beachbum2013 | February 7, 2011

  4. I saw your comment when I moused over the photo. I think the young woman who is smiling in the photo looks like you! Is that photoshopped? Fun idea!

    Comment by P.A.H. | February 7, 2011

  5. Tina says: No, PAH, it’s not photoshopped, but now that I look at it, I can see what you mean! Very funny!

    Comment by TLR | February 7, 2011

  6. This inspired me to look at a process for submitting work orders that causes grumbling from everyone who uses it. I think it needs to stay in place to avoid the problems we had before. Hmmmm. A challenge, indeed!

    Comment by Careerist | February 9, 2011

  7. Tina says: Careerist, I discussed a similar situation with someone yesterday. In the case of the other workplace, they absolutely, positively, definitely and without a doubt need a formal and rather strict process! (How’s that for extreme?)

    The reason is that those who review the process essentially are the safety net to stop poor work from moving any further. It requires all work to take at least a week or two more than would be necessary in most businesses to allow enough time for the reviewers to look at everything and make corrections, send it back to be fixed, review it again, etc.

    That will never be able to change as long as poor work is considered inevitable and acceptable. Serious and obvious mistakes should be rare not an every time thing!

    Consider a bit of analyzing of the situation to find out root causes and see what it would take for those to no longer exist. I hesitate to suggest that to you because I know you are highly trained in all of that, but maybe there’s something you’ve overlooked in your frustration over it.

    Keep me informed!

    Comment by TLR | February 9, 2011

  8. I really wish the powers that be at my office would read blogs like yours! I placed an order for some business cards for myself (my boss, who has authority to approve/request such transactions, asked me to) – and almost immediately, TPTB emailed me to tell me that all expenses had to be run by them.

    If it was a high-priced item (say a computer) or something that seemed not work-related, I could understand. But a blanket “all expenses”? And the tone of the email was just not nice – you’d think I was caught trying to secretly launder money into my personal bank account or something.

    Anyway, I humored them for a few days – requested approval on every single transaction (even calculating how much a business trip would cost, which is time-consuming!). I didn’t know how to bring up this issue with my boss (because I didn’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill), but I did casually mention it to him and he was not happy (making a person of his stature having to request permission? The audacity!).

    Of course, TPTB now say that I misunderstood their request, or they misconveyed what they meant. They didn’t mean I needed approval on everything (despite what the email says) – just on unusual expenses… Right. Honestly, there was no “miscommunication” – it’s just that they wanted to create more layers of work so they could look busy but once they were confronted, they changed their story. I just *knew* they would claim I misunderstood.

    Comment by Cassie | February 10, 2011

  9. Tina says: Thank you Cassie for commenting. I’m so glad you were able to work out the situation at work. And, I think you are correct that often people just want their stamp of approval on everything as a way to seem as though they are very, very important to the work. I don’t want anyone to feel that they AREN’T important, but they don’t have to do it at the expense of others!

    I hope you’ll comment again…I enjoyed the real-life anecdote!

    Comment by TLR | February 10, 2011

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