Maliciously Delicious

Great compliance can equal unhappy customers.


Not long ago, I asked some people in my organization to make a change to how they submit expense reports.  Instead of titling the expense reports willy-nilly, they were to use a more systematic titling convention that allows our chief administrative officer (that’s me) to quickly sort through a high volume of reports.

I asked for a simple convention:

Last Name, Client, Month, Year

Admittedly, when reports are submitted this way, it has worked beautifully for me…shaving off minutes of time it takes to review, to book, and where needed to accurately bill expenses from our firm.

Today, I chuckled as I received an expense report titled “Last Name, Client, Month, Year.”  As in, literally named with those words.

Now, notwithstanding my amusement at what was clearly a person’s diligent attempt to remind themselves of how to name their reports that accidentally didn’t get updated prior to submission, it brings up a really interesting topic for the manager and strategist in all of us.

Have you ever heard of “malicious compliance?”

Malicious compliance is compliance with the letter and not the spirit.  It’s doing what you are told and not what’s right.

Good examples of malicious compliance come up in all organizations all the time.  Did you attend that “mandatory” meeting instead of fixing that customer problem because you knew your boss would focus (pettily I might add) on your absence vs. the customer?

Did you ever have someone do exactly what the customer wanted, even though it was exactly the wrong thing?

That’s malicious compliance.

In establishing change programs, we have to balance the need for strict compliance with what I will call “first things.”  First things are principles like the Hippocratic “do no harm.”  They are principles like “customer experience first.”  First things are values.  The first things have to come first.

You want all reports for your strategy deployment effort on time, every time?  Sure, but what about the fire down at the plant?

Having strong values is a way of avoiding instances of malicious compliance.

The point here is that great compliance–even with good rules and regulations–can equal unhappy customers and unhealthy organizations.  Your values should guide you to when it’s time to “overcome compliance.”

I’m curious:  What’s your favorite example of malicious compliance?  If you start the conversation, I’m betting this one could be more interesting in the comments than in the post!

What do you think?

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