Procedures And An Old Car

Processes and procedures can keep an organization running smoothly. They help people stay on track and focused in both calm and chaotic times. Is it really that important, however, for a company to stick close to its procedures, or is good enough good enough? That question reminds me of one of my first cars, a 1973 AMC Hornet.

My AMC Hornet was great. It had nearly 200,000 miles on it when we separated. I loved driving it. But you might not have.

After a few years, the door hinges on the driver’s side started to wear. To close the door I had to kind of lift up on it. Once I got used to that, though, it wasn’t really a problem. Sometimes when I turned the windshield wiper knob, it came off in my hand. I adapted. The car pulled sharply to the right if I stepped hard on the brakes. Since I was aware, I made adjustments. And when I wanted to listen to the radio … well, I just couldn’t. The speakers rattled so badly that words or music were indistinguishable. So what? I carried a portable boom box on the passenger seat.

Yeah, the Hornet had idiosyncrasies. But they happened one at a time, over a period of years. And when something came up, I learned to live with it. It was no problem – unless someone other than me needed to drive the car. Then I had to explain everything. I have to admit, at those times I saw my Hornet as less than a luxury vehicle. In fact, it seemed more like a piece of junk.

The same principle can be true in business. Most firms start out with systems, procedures, and policies that cover everything from when the team is due to arrive in the morning to how they check out at night. In between, there are systems for the important aspects of the operation, who to consult for certain issues, what to do in an emergency, and much more.

If one person slacks off on one system, procedure, or policy, it might not seem like a big deal. The organization can adjust, just like I adjusted to the door hinges on my Hornet. But if those systems continue to be compromised and the company continues to adapt to the compromises, the day will come when the whole enterprise is in shambles.

You wouldn’t have enjoyed driving my 1973 AMC Hornet. It had too many weird little quirks. But I hope you enjoy being part of the company you serve each day. Respecting its policies and procedures will help.


The above is used by permission from the book Three Years Of Tuesday Mornings: 156 e-mails about business and life by Steve Fales.

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