The “Stupid” Audit

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Would you agree that a primary function of an effective leader is to pave the way, removing barriers to success for those that do the work, and knocking down the impediments to success before they become excuses for failure?

The paradox of leadership

Leadership presents a fascinating paradox. Those promoted to leadership positions must completely understand this paradox in order to succeed.

The paradox is that due to successfully doing a job, demonstrating competence, and being a high performer you are ‘promoted’ to serve people who are doing the work that you used to do. It is not an elevation really.

You aren’t promoted to a position where you finally get to tell people what to do. Rather you are placed in a position where you support people doing their jobs successfully. This is in fact where the value creation occurs because you now have a multiplier effect on the organization.

Stupid Processes

What if a cynical stand-up comedian was allowed to observe your operation for a few days and then tasked with coming up with a killer, biting set for your roast at the company annual meeting?

I’m nervous just thinking about it.

What would the comedian focus on? The stupid policies, rules, and approaches that are in place and likely taken for granted by you and often also by the people who work with one hand tied behind their back.

How about if you identify and eliminate each one of these items on the stupid list? What would happen? What could resources accomplish if these stupid processes were removed?

The Stupid Audit

Step 1 – Identify as many stupid barriers to meeting the mission as you can all by yourself.

Step 2 – Ask your key managers to identify as many barriers as they can, without your input.

Step 3 – Ask front line employees to identify as many barriers as they can, without management input.

Step 4 – Analyze the discrepancies and differences in the lists.

Step 5 – Identify every item you can immediately fix and fix them.

Step 6 – Identify the right people to work on fixing the other, longer-term items.

Step 7 – Measure the increases – productivity, innovation, customer engagement, employee engagement, financials, etc.


When looking for stupid items focus on:

  • The customer facing people and processes. What are they dealing with? Ex: Permission to serve a customer in a support situation.
  • Anything that seems like bureaucracy. Ex: Data collection for reports that aren’t used.
  • Anything that dampens innovation. Ex: Cumbersome approval processes that don’t allow trial and error.
  • Anything that elongates change implementation. Ex: Nonexistent communication channels.
  • Cross-boundary issues. Ex: Pass-offs in processes between departments.
  • Class issues. Ex: Only directors and above receive certain information.
  • Environment. Ex: Fads for office setup that are contrary to getting work done.

Levers you can pull:

  • Selling up. Ex: Get other executives to understand the work of your team.
  • Negotiate cross-boundary. Ex: Setup partnerships and smooth bureaucracy with other department leaders.
  • Permission. Ex: You are allowed to solve that problem on the fly as needed.
  • Unknown resources. Ex: You might provide a communication or implementation resource to someone who has a great idea but is lacking in that area.
  • Budget. Ex: Make room.
  • Skill. Ex: Provide education where needed.
  • Coaching. Ex: Be involved while leaving space.


Even after removing barriers people may assume they are still there. It’s a learning continuum. Be prepared to hold hands as needed.

Let your people soar. Knock down the barriers. Pave the way to success.

Please share other ways to remove the barriers and clear the path to success from your experience by commenting below.

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On December 30, 2014
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