Compliance versus Competency

Do you ever wonder why you see headlines like these?

Safeway apologizes after 4-year-old is banned for life

Cops are Summoned to an Elementary School After a Girl Kisses a Boy in Gym Class

Is That 4-Year-Old Really a Sex Offender?

The last one includes these tidbits:

In December 2006, a 4-year-old boy in Waco, Tex., was punished with an in-school suspension after a female aide accused him of sexual harassment. According to a television station there, the child had hugged the woman while getting on the bus, and she later complained to administrators at La Vega Primary School that the child had put his face in her chest. School officials later agreed to remove sexual references but refused to expunge the “inappropriate physical contact” charge from the boy’s school record.

In my home state of Maryland, state data show that during the 2005-06 school year, 28 kindergartners were suspended for sex offenses, including 15 for sexual harassment.

Last December, a kindergartner was accused of sexual harassment after he pinched a classmate’s bottom at Lincolnshire Elementary School in Hagerstown, according to the local paper, the Herald-Mail. The charge will remain on his record until he enters middle school. “It’s important to understand a child may not realize that what he or she is doing may be considered sexual harassment, but if it fits under the definition, then it is, under the state’s guidelines,” school spokeswoman Carol Mowen told the Herald-Mail. “If someone has been told this person does not want this type of touching, it doesn’t matter if it’s at work or at school, that’s sexual harassment.”

In fact, the Maryland Department of Education defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and/or other inappropriate verbal, written or physical conduct of a sexual nature directed toward others.” I am alarmed that Mowen’s statement appears to imply that schools will find a child guilty of sexual misconduct even if the child doesn’t understand the implications of his or her actions.

Why do we see reports day after day and week after week about people in positions of authority who seem to have no common sense?

It is because we are working hard as a society to replace competency with compliance.

I’ve seen it in many of the businesses that I have turned around. When the company gets in trouble the first thing to go is trust in the people who work there. Upper management’s initial response is denial that they could possibly have done anything wrong – it must be the employees. The problem is that they are simply too stupid to do their jobs and they obviously must assure compliance and accuracy, so they put rules, policies, procedures and checklists in place to assure that they do everything just so-so.

Managers forget that wrong things done precisely still spell doom…you just get there in a more orderly fashion.

Never mind that in most cases, the entire employee population would have had to have gone stupid, 1) simultaneously and 2) almost overnight. They would have had to have forgotten how they were taught to do their work in less time than it took them to learn…amazing, but true. You would be surprised how many companies do just this and hoe many educated managers make this mistake.

The problem with it is that they sacrifice competence at the altar of compliance. Managers gain the illusion of control and create a cadre of mind-numbed robots that are very, very good at completing forms but lose the ability…and desire, to think for themselves. The employees are limited to the prescribed outline of a job, not the real job. This starts the inevitable death spiral of people leaving the company because they aren’t trusted and are limited in how they can approach their tasks and enrich their work life. They become more focused on being right according to the script rather than doing the right thing. Eventually those who know what the right thing is leave and the remainders only know the policies by heart.

Doing this places the onus on the management to make every decision because the employees never learn to be independent thinkers and make their own decisions.

This is also evident in society today. Our illustrious legislators have figured that we simply can’t be trusted to do the right thing, so they do what their name implies – they legislate. They seek to replace character, common sense and a sense of ethics and fair play with a rule book for life. This is the error that secular societies make when they attempt to extinguish the conscience with a book of laws.

The same effect that over-regulation has on a company organism exists in society. You get people like the ones mentioned above who will smile and wait for a pat on the back for following the “rules” while a 4 year old is charged for sexual harassment for a hug.

We often hear about the rule of law, that we are a society of laws – and we are, but the application of those laws must be based on a higher power than an elected legislator to be valid. A moral sense of right and wrong is required.

That comes from God.


…we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

–  John Adams

One thought on “Compliance versus Competency

  1. One of the platforms for my soapbox is there is no such thing as “Zero Tolerance”, at least there shouldn’t be. Zero Tolerance has gotten more people, innocent children in particular, in trouble that they would/should never have gotten into than you could possibly imagine. Parental guidance should have been administered in all three referenced cases. You explain why actions are wrong to a four year old. You don’t call police because of your Zero Tolerance policy.

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