Help! New auditor making totally arbitrary rules
September 20, 2017 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Someone got promoted and they are earning their keep by creating new requirements that are arbitrary. This will reduce efficiency. Help me cope and consider my options!

Nobody has to access my files except for me. One of the items on our new operations checklist is a specific method of organizing files - paper and electronic. I will be audited on whether my files are in alpha order. Again, nobody ever needs to get at the files, and I work far more efficiently in my current system.

I am all for creating a consistent workforce when needed, delivering quality services. I take pride in my work. But this is busy work. Why does it matter how I have my data organized as long as I can use it and discuss it? I don't mind change, generally speaking, and can even thrive on it, but these changes all seem pointless. I think good managers leverage the skills of their subordinates to empower them to do their best work. This manager is hog-tying me in ways that are unnecessary.

We are also suddenly responsible for a mock consumable that in my many years here, nobody has ever told me was required.

We have been given two checklists to track our data for compiling into a report. This is in addition to the daily tracking required to do the job. My job is frontline humanitarian work and these extra requirements will limit my end user impact because I will need to devote at least an hour each day just managing these issues, on top of the other administrative aspects of the role.

The organizational culture is pretty flexible and small. But this year we suddenly have three bosses in my program, each responsible for some slightly different area. There is an adjustment period and I feel like this is an opportunity to make my needs known.

How can I do that tactfully, with the best chance of having this new auditor say "you know what, after hearing from you and others in the department I realize that I need to be checking for requirements that are not arbitrary"?

I'm not sure that is going to happen. I don't mind being audited, but being checked for things that don't really matter and are simply an extension of the individual person's way of designing their program before they got promoted is really irking me. Help!
posted by crunchy potato to Work & Money (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I will be audited on whether my files are in alpha order. Again, nobody ever needs to get at the files, and I work far more efficiently in my current system.
Procedures are not about you, they are about the organisation as a whole. An employee should be - as much as possible - entirely interchangeable and a system should suit as many people as possible. It is not efficient or desirable to have a person-specific system, because if you were to leave or were fired or hit by a bus or any other loss of employee, your replacement would flounder with a system that doesn't make sense to them and replacing that with a sensible system would make training a new person easier and make them effective much, much faster.

You're better off trying to streamline the new system and adapting to it rather than trying to make an argument for a specific system that only you know, to be honest. The other stuff that may cost you an hour a day (and be honest and test this before you say it, to reduce the chance of it being dismissed for exaggerating the issue) is far more worthy and logical to spend time on addressing.
posted by Brockles at 12:42 PM on September 20, 2017 [33 favorites]


(Not what you want to hear, but) there should never be a process in an organisation that only one person can navigate. What if you get run over by a bus etc. So I think to increase your chances of getting your way (or finding a compromise), you need to
1. lay out how much time (money / efficiency / time on the ground) is exactly being lost through the new procedure and
2. find a way to ensure others can use your system - either providing documentation, or at least changing it slightly so it's less obscure, or a combination, or perhaps show/convince the auditor that there IS a system that isn't as opaque as he first thought.
Additional caveat: if it's a standardisation issue (everyone has developed their own obscure system and no one understands each others') your task will be even trickier.

You might also want to revisit your "I don't mind change" self-image cuz that's not how this comes across ;) If your system truly is superior, you should have an easy time convincing the auditor of it. But remember it does not need to serve only you, even if it appears like that from your vantage point.

Good luck!

[on preview... seconding Brockles. Down to the bus analogy *lol*]
posted by ClarissaWAM at 12:44 PM on September 20, 2017 [3 favorites]


Agreed with Brockles. If you got hit by a bus tomorrow (or, you know, quit) would someone else be able to step in and easily use your system? If not, it's a bad system for your organization. Is there a system other than alpha that may serve this function and be as learnable and obvious by someone who steps in? If so, that might be worth addressing, but "this works for me, today" is a bad organizational argument.
posted by brainmouse at 12:44 PM on September 20, 2017 [3 favorites]


Some of this stuff you may not be able to do much about, without going over your boss' head and making a big stink that will likely sour your relationship with your manager. However, I've had relatively good luck in the past with getting bosses to let me streamline or ditch silly requirements by telling them how much of my time it's taking up. If dealing with your new checklists is eating an hour out of every workday, that's a huge chunk of time that is no longer available for you to actually do your job.

I've had reasonably good results by saying things like "I'm already pretty much maxxed out in terms of my workload, so if you need me to do this extra thing either something else has to come off my plate or else we need to be really clear that I'm no longer going to be able to complete the rest of my work going forward at my usual standard of quality and timeliness." There are only so many hours in a workday, and most people don't have an entire extra hour of slack just sitting around waiting to be used. Any decent manager will understand that.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:47 PM on September 20, 2017 [8 favorites]


Can you create an archive to suit their standards and keep it properly updated, with easy-to-follow directions for accessing your working files? Or, since that has potential version-control issues when people can't abide archive/working sets, then can you save a mirror of your fileset that displays in their preferred order? I agree it's important to your organization and your current/future that you find a way to accept this as a reasonable mandate.
posted by juliplease at 12:50 PM on September 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


Please consider that these changes might not be arbitrary busywork-- while annoying for you, they may contribute to overall efficiency and success of the organization in ways you don't fully get. There may be an opportunity to review whether these are successful, but that time is after the changes have taken effect, not as soon as you're asked to make them.

I don't mind change, generally speaking, and can even thrive on it

You will not seem that way if you reject these changes so soon in the process.
posted by kapers at 12:51 PM on September 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


I agree with the other answers, but also wanted to suggest an alternative. Usually audits that I'm familiar with point out the vulnerability / issue / hole, but there is a lot of flexibility in how we respond to the audit finding. Many ways to skin a cat, etc.

So can you embrace the audit finding, but respond to it by formalizing your own preferred method of organizing your files? So that instead of alphabetized, it's organized by the crunchy potato index method as described in Appendix 2, etc.
posted by machinecraig at 12:52 PM on September 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


This has nothing to do with you or your efficiency but is instead to make things more efficient for the company if you suddenly go out sick or they have to replace you because you leave.

If you are going to convince them to let you keep the systems you use currently you will have to present to them a case for how much easier it is for someone else to step in & pick up what you are doing with your current file naming system. Also determine exactly what information they are trying to obtain through the reports and why they feel it need for the reporting to be tracked, has their been errors are there more efficient ways to make sure these errors don't occur, are they standardizing reports across the board & want them all done the same way now. You will also have a better case for changing the .. err changes if you show willingness to try them first instead of attacking the changes without even trying them, then you will have evidence to show why they don't achieve whatever it is your manager is trying to achieve.

As a person who shuffles papers for a living, what they are doing is pretty standard business practice for companies of all sizes. Having standardized ways to present reports/files etc really does save other departments that are using that info a lot of time as does having a record of who filled in reports & the steps they took if there are problems with the reports it can make finding problems so much quicker & easier. You need to show them how your method does these things better.
posted by wwax at 12:56 PM on September 20, 2017 [3 favorites]


As someone who has done audits, audits of paper files not in a stated order can take so much additional time.

The stated order doesn't really matter as long as everyone does it similar enough that I don't have to spend 30 minutes figuring out if document A really exsists in every instance it should.

There are plenty of ways to organize. Sometimes it's better by region or project. It is consistency that is the key and ability to train a new person on the system. Or to have a grant funder come in and in four hours be able to say that everything is there.

Your daily tracking should be able to provide all reports you need. This may be an infrastructure issue. for example: are you using computers to keep track of milestones or actions such as phone calls? If so, a computerized report should be able to be generated without much additional effort. If it can't, an IT upgrade may be in order.
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posted by AlexiaSky at 1:05 PM on September 20, 2017


I don't mind being audited, but being checked for things that don't really matter and are simply an extension of the individual person's way of designing their program before they got promoted is really irking me.

Organizational knowledge management is HARD, and when you are undergoing a funder audit (I'm not entirely sure from the wording of your question whether the person is an internal auditor, or an audit compliance officer, but I'd tend to think the latter since the former don't usually have much rule-making authority themselves in my experience), the very last thing you want to find out is that the files you need are stored in a bespoke system that only one person in the whole organization understands. All of a sudden you, being that person, become the choke point for the whole audit. That's terrible both for your compliance officer AND for you - it is not a bad thing if they are getting in front of that problem.

You seem very quick to assume these rules are arbitrary, which may speak to some level of corporate dysfunction in your organization - for sure, some implementing field staff should have been a part of these types of discussions to make sure that the systems put in place to promote compliance are also reasonable to put into practice by those at the front facing end of the organization. But even if they really haven't checked it with anyone on the implementing side (which is also not entirely clear to me from your question), it almost certainly won't get you anywhere by insisting on referring to the rule as "arbitrary." I'd really encourage you to frame it instead as a rule that is responding to a need you were not aware of, and you are trying to find the best way to respond to that need while maintaining your workflow. And it may still not get you anywhere - implementing filing and knowledge management systems where none existed simply can't be done without some friction.

My point of view comes from doing international development both in the field on the project side and as an HQ-based administrative-side contract manager - and having participated in audits in both roles.
posted by solotoro at 1:14 PM on September 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


A story: My boss doesn't understand computers well. So, I have fights occasionally with her when she does things like print an excel spreadsheet and then ask for written changes on a piece of paper instead of in the actual file

Then she'll come back and ask how many I changed ffs. If I did it in the excel sheet it would literally be a push off a Button to tell her, instead of counting line by line.

Digital files that can be sorted, searched and indexed shouldn't need as strict as a system though file naming can be important.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:18 PM on September 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


Additional data point: the new person is an internal auditor responsible for quality assurance. When we have external audits, individuals pull our own files for those so nobody else has to use our systems.

Ha, maybe I am not as good with change as I think. I tend to think that change that is logical and reasoned that improves processes is effective and wonderful and desired. Change that creates unneeded timesucks, less so. Perhaps I don't have the big picture but I have been in this role for several years through external audits and some of the new requirements are not solving problems that I have ever seen in the larger organization. So again, it seems to me that the goal is to prove good use of time as a new manager by requiring a lot of Things, and apply one's personal system across the board. I guess if I got the rationale and it made sense to me I could let go of my agitation here, but I've yet to see any reasons beyond "because I need to prove that I am doing work worthy of my promotion."
posted by crunchy potato at 1:32 PM on September 20, 2017


I, too, was going to use the "hit by a bus" example. But instead I'll give a bit of an anecdote. I used to work as a criminal prosecutor, and at the misdemeanor level, that meant managing a docket of hundreds of cases at a time, all at different stages, with different casts of characters, and with different problems. And some things, like victim contact, we were required to do by law. Then, every 3-6 months, for [$ Reasons], we would be moved to another docket, where another few hundreds of cases had been worked up to various stages of completion by another attorney.

Those transitions sucked, but the only thing that made them somewhat bearable was institutional requirements on how files were organized, what was written down, and where it was written down. If another attorney had organized their files using, whatever, cockney rhyming slang, just because it worked for them, it would have doomed me once I took over.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:33 PM on September 20, 2017 [3 favorites]


Speaking as someone who once nearly died on that hill: this is not the hill you want to die on.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:45 PM on September 20, 2017 [12 favorites]


We have been given two checklists to track our data for compiling into a report. This is in addition to the daily tracking required to do the job. My job is frontline humanitarian work and these extra requirements will limit my end user impact because I will need to devote at least an hour each day just managing these issues, on top of the other administrative aspects of the role.

Are you guys by any chance grant-funded? I ask because there's a huge trend right now of funders asking for more and more quantitative data from their grantees. So this might be something that's been externally imposed, or at least, something that will make your (hypothetical) grant manager's life less miserable.

A successful pitch for changing the procedure for this would have to go, here's how I can get you this same information more efficiently (or, let's talk about how I can do that), please consider it because this is going to take an hour of my time a day. But I doubt you're gonna get them to stop wanting the information entirely.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:57 PM on September 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


If you feel like more of a big-picture view might help you adjust to these changes, can you ask your boss to give you one? I too am somebody who doesn't deal well with apparently-pointless changes especially when they make my life more difficult, but often when I've brought my concerns to my manager they've been able to explain the background behind why the change was made and frequently I am then able to see that there is indeed a reasonable method behind the apparent madness. Once I understand why I'm being asked to do something, I'm usually much happier about actually doing it.

I wish bosses in general were better at communicating that stuff in the first place, but on the other hand I think I (and also most MeFites and maybe you too) am still sort of that kid in the classroom who just won't stop asking questions long after the rest of the class wished the professor would just move on with the lesson, so maybe the more opaque communication style works better for most workers.

In any case, if you're being told to do something that seems annoying and pointless and you don't understand why you need to do it, I've found that asking frequently helps a lot.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:08 PM on September 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


this is an intentional policy change. it's likely your management has made a clear-eyed tradeoff of efficiency for uniform processes.

nobody on the management team wants to revisit this decision.

i have been the squeaky wheel. you don't want to go there.
posted by j_curiouser at 4:59 PM on September 20, 2017 [3 favorites]


> Additional data point: the new person is an internal auditor responsible for quality assurance. When we have external audits, individuals pull our own files for those so nobody else has to use our systems.

But it doesn't matter that you are the one who pulls your own files, because someday you are going to quit this job to move on to some other position. Someday, someone besides you is going to have to make sense of your files.

Ha, maybe I am not as good with change as I think. I tend to think that change that is logical and reasoned that improves processes is effective and wonderful and desired. Change that creates unneeded timesucks, less so. Perhaps I don't have the big picture but I have been in this role for several years through external audits and some of the new requirements are not solving problems that I have ever seen in the larger organization. So again, it seems to me that the goal is to prove good use of time as a new manager by requiring a lot of Things, and apply one's personal system across the board. I guess if I got the rationale and it made sense to me I could let go of my agitation here, but I've yet to see any reasons beyond "because I need to prove that I am doing work worthy of my promotion."

Honestly, this sounds personal rather that really being about systems and protocols. You feel under-appreciated/under-resourced, and you have doubts about this supervisor's qualifications and motives.
posted by desuetude at 11:01 PM on September 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


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