Don't Let Arbitrary Orders Pull You Off Course

By Tim Votapka
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'The vast majority of arbitrary orders are not borne out of emergency situations.'

Tim Votapka
Have you ever had a moment when someone in the office did something that really didn’t make any sense? The response can often be, “But that’s the way we’ve been doing it for years.” Now recall what impact that has had on you, your staff and ultimately the productivity of your area. Let’s take a look at this a little more closely.

Example 1: 

Your new sales reps can’t seem to get into the routine of entering all of their daily activities in your CRM system. When you investigate this you find out they were under the impression that the system was only necessary for booking appointments, proposals and closed sales.  

Example 2:

You put the time and money into developing a direct mail campaign, but after a few weeks you find out that nobody has actually been mailing the postcards out on a regular basis. Again, you pull the string and discover that your marketing coordinator thought it would be best to see how many prospects responded before releasing the next flight. 

In each of these examples, major flubs occurred that affected the health and viability of the organization. And in both cases – plus many more like them – decisions were made based on arbitrary data; that is to say orders and commands that were issued without a good, sound explanation. It also means decisions are being made without consideration of policy.

As consultants, we see this occur in businesses of every shape and size. The issue here is the introduction of arbitraries. L. Ron Hubbard, administrative expert and author of the highly successful Hubbard Management System, defined the term very precisely when he said an “arbitrary” is a false order or datum entered into a situation or group. It may reveal itself as the “rule of thumb” staff members apply to any given area in the absence of policy.

Sometimes these arbitrary decisions enter into the organization
virtually undetected and without any known source or author
at hand who can provide the appropriate rationale. 

“Who told you sales reps didn’t have to enter daily activities
in ACT,” you ask your sales managers. 

“Um, well, I thought that’s always been the case.”

 “I see, but who told you that?” 

“Well, I think it was Joe when I first got here. Yea, he told me
 there weren’t enough fields in ACT to enter that info, so he 
said we just skip over that.”

“Who told you sales reps didn’t have to enter daily activities in ACT,”
 you ask your sales managers. 

“Um, well, I thought that’s always been the case.”

 “I see, but who told you that?” 

“Well, I think it was Joe when I first got here. Yea, he told me there weren’t enough fields in ACT to enter that info, so he said we just skip over that.”
​That’s about as blatant as an arbitrary can get, and unfortunately Joe cannot be corrected on his false data because he left the company back in 2006. Hopefully, Joe went to a competitor where he could spread even more false data and confusion. Regardless, the damage was done and now his irrational idea has been adopted as policy which, unless eradicated will bring the tone, morale and production of the team down over time.

Now in his experience with group dynamics, Mr. Hubbard discovered some very practical phenomena. A group, he determined, is as effective as the reasonableness of its ideas and the height of its ethic, plus its ability to confront and handle its environment. If your team is confronted with irrational policies or behaviors without spotting this they will go off course. A common example of this occurs right around this time of the year when you start to hear sales reps defend their lack of appointments and sales by blaming it on the slow summer. “Everybody’s away on vacation in August; that’s why we’re not getting any deals signed.” This is an arbitrary piece of data that can enter into a dealership giving the team the justification necessary to make fewer calls and close fewer sales.

By the way, notice Mr. Hubbard’s use of the word “ethics” in his definition of group effectiveness. This concept is often misunderstood as it can be thought to mean simply not breaking the law or policy. In fact, ethics is actually measured by one’s ability to think and act according to the greatest good for the greatest number of dynamics. A group in good ethics writes and follows policies that promote the maximum amount of survival for its members and its overall purpose. The absence of policy and ethics can and will open the door to non-survival practices or routines, even among the best staff members simply because the arbitrary decision or policy can appear to be legitimate. Scary, huh?

Now there are occasions when certain arbitrary orders enter the scene for legitimate reasons. For example, an emergency situation may arise that does not allow a manager much time to explain his orders to the group. Recent floods, tornados and other major events in certain areas of the U.S.A. probably forced many managers to issue orders or directions to staff that did not come with specific explanations. In cases like this, the staff is used to following instantaneous orders which are issued to protect and safeguard the group. When this happens, the staff instinctively follows the orders provided it has faith and belief in the rationale and sanity of the manager who is issuing the orders. Even then, the manager should gather his staff up immediately after the crisis or emergency ends and explain his orders and reasons in order to avoid any chance of having these become standard operating procedure down the road. 

But the vast majority of arbitrary rules are not borne out of emergency situations. No, they are more likely the implanted idea from an individual who either didn’t understand an agreed-upon policy or SOP, or simply had false data that had never been cleared up earlier on.  

Fortunately there is a remedy for this. First off, examine your team, probing for any orders and commands that were issued without explanation. If you find any, clear these up until there is absolutely no doubt in your mind everyone impacted has understood the directions and why they were issued. Secondly, ask your staff members if there were any other earlier orders or commands given that they did not understand. Clear those. You will find that with persistence and repetition, your people will be able to spot arbitrarily set policies and will question them. When they do you’ll have a smoother running and more profitable operation.

Contact Tim Votapka at [email protected]

Prosperity Plus Management Consulting, Inc.

Tel: 631.382.7762
Email: [email protected]

P.O. Box 85
Smithtown, NY 11787