Column: Risk Management

Mind the Gaps

By: | October 3, 2017

Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

Years ago, a friend and I were getting ready for a black-tie event. She was to wear a lovely form-fitting cocktail dress with a pair of body shaping control-top pantyhose.

We were amused to discover the hose came with instructions. They amounted to: Sit down. Hold tights with your thumbs. Slip in one foot. Stretch the material up leg. Repeat with other leg. Stand up.

For hours, we could not stop laughing. We imagined the poor technical writer charged with crafting these instructions after a customer somehow twisted themselves in a life-threatening human pretzel when putting on the hose.

We have all seen these types of rules and instructions. Painfully self-evident steps that insultingly spell out the obvious. Should self-evident and unspoken rules be written down? I never thought so.

I think of known social rules. It should be obvious that when in an elevator, lavatory or subway, give others space. When speaking to someone, don’t crowd them. Be aware of the direction of your gaze when conversing. Flip flops and swimsuits are not appropriate work attire except for lifeguards. When putting on pantyhose, do so one leg at a time.

Organizations with the least compliance breaches and the highest morale valued detailed written policies and procedures.

These are the unspoken rules, implied by living in a civilized and decent society. Logical assumptions.

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Lately, I’ve had to revisit my thinking on this. Rules self evident to me appear to be not so self evident to others. Rules seem to be deliberately mined for gaps of which to take advantage.

We need not look further than one of the most important rule books, the U.S. Constitution. Recent queries on the breadth of presidential pardoning power highlighted that the founders likely did not consider the possibility of a sitting president pardoning himself of a potential crime.

It likely wasn’t seen as a gap in the rules. It was unthinkable. But this very gap has the potential of splitting apart the idea of democracy itself if not constrained by “due process.”

Should this gap act as a swift reminder for organizations to write down more of their implied rules? Make the unwritten, written?

Having worked with many organizations in the risk management, governance and compliance areas over my career, I noted that the organizations with the least compliance breaches and the highest morale valued detailed written policies and procedures.

It may have meant a grueling obligation for new hires, reading and signing off on all those policies and procedures. But as onerous as it was, it led to successful governance in the long run.

Written rules and laws need to be continually updated to seal gaps and avoid exploitation of the implied. This is needed to control audacious opportunists with skewed social correctness. It seems a rule for some doesn’t exist if it’s not written down. &

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]