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Why This CEO Appointed An Employee To Change Dumb Company Rules

Source | FastCompany : BY RYAN HOLMES

Earlier this year, an employee wanted to send a customer a T-shirt with our logo as a gift. There was nothing special about this particular shirt. It was an ordinary, 100% cotton crew neck. But by the time this employee got approval–factoring in his own time and everyone else’s up the org chart who had to weigh in before signing off on the request–the cost of this T-shirt had ballooned to at least $200.

Every business has its own systems and processes, and they serve an important function, especially as a company grows. I’ve learned this firsthand has my own has scaled from a few dozen to nearly 1,000 employees. With that many moving parts, you can’t operate efficiently without some kind of playbook. Systems help you make sure things get done, quality remains high, and there are no surprises.

But it’s important to distinguish between good systems and bad systems. Good systems make things easier. Bad systems do exactly the opposite, making everyone’s lives harder. The problem is that bad systems often end up in a kind of corporate Bermuda Triangle: No one really monitors them and, worse still, no one’s empowered to change them when you need to. So I recently tried to fix that.


In Hootsuite’s early days, we decided that managers would need to approve requests for company swag; the costs of all those T-shirts and plush toys adds up. But as we grew, this blanket policy became cumbersome. In the case of the $200 T-shirt, our senior director of technology, Noel, had to spend several days chasing down his manager, our CTO, to get a rubber-stamp on a request for a $15 gift.

Fortunately, Noel wouldn’t let the issue die. He spent a day or two hounding the right people in finance and marketing. In the end, he persuaded them to scrap the formal approvals rule in favor of trusting that everyone would use their own discretion when ordering, like grown-ups. Worst-case scenario? A few extra Hootsuite T-shirts find their way into the world.

This example might sound trivial until you start to do the math. In a company of 1,000 people, we’re talking about hundreds of employee hours saved over a year’s time–just on ordering swag. Once I realized that, the gears started turning: How much time and money were being tied up in other bad and broken processes–simple stuff that was eminently fixable, but that no one was looking into?

And so the “Czar of Bad Systems” role was born. It’s not an official position for us (yet). Noel has been generous enough to volunteer for the first tour of duty, on top of his day job. But our employees now have a go-to person who can take an objective look at processes that have outlived their usefulness. If people have a problem they can’t fix, even with help from their manager, they reach out to the Czar. In the past, these processes would’ve fallen through the cracks–they’d be cursed at but ultimately complied with. Now there’s hope that they might actually be corrected.

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