A Silly Example of Mandates and Threats Not Working


Cemetery full, mayor tells locals not to die

Maybe this mayor has consumed too much Bordeaux wine. But this story is a wonderfully comical illustration of how ineffective management mandates, targets, quotas, and the fear of punishment can actually be.

The mayor of a village in southwest France has threatened residents with severe punishment if they die, because there is no room left in the overcrowded cemetery to bury them.

In an ordinance posted in the council offices, Mayor Gerard Lalanne told the 260 residents of the village of Sarpourenx that “all persons not having a plot in the cemetery and wishing to be buried in Sarpourenx are forbidden from dying in the parish.”

It added: “Offenders will be severely punished.”

I doubt they attempted a “5 Whys” exercise that went like this (imagine an Inspector Clouseau accent — the Peter Sellers one, not the lame Steve Martin one):

  1. Why is zee cemetery full?
  2. Because people are dying!!

Eh, sounds like zee root cause to me. Hmm…. let's drink more wine!!

Talk about NOT getting to a solvable root cause of the problem!!

And for any of you who are laughing at this or the mayor, he proactively responded:

“It may be a laughing matter for some, but not for me,” he said.

Are any of our managers trying to manage the same way? Through mandates and threats? In the name of improving quality? Preventing errors or safety incidents?” Mandates, fear, and threats just lead to people hiding problems or being really creative in making things look good (rather than making real improvements). Have any examples to share?

What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

Did you like this post? Make sure you don't miss a post or podcast — Subscribe to get notified about posts via email daily or weekly.

Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation:

Get New Posts Sent To You

Select list(s):
Previous articleCongratulations on 50 Years
Next articleJohn Boyd, Lean Fighter Pilot Part II
Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Unbelievable. I wonder what “punishments” he has in mind for those who dare to die without permission. How do you think his re-election campaign will go???

  2. This is an extreme example, but an instructive one on the folly of single layer problem analysis. I can’t remember how often I’ve come across the same logic employed in the workplace where impoverished managers dig down 1 layer when addressing a problem and find their solution. How many times have any of us witnessed the problem of “low on-time shipments” remedied by a solution of “increased inventory” at the insistence of management? This remedy, while not quite as absurd as the dear mayor’s, not only doesn’t solve the problem of “low on-time shipments” but creates the precursor to the next crisis – “our inventories are out of control!”. Punishment for not improving on-time shipments is usually quite clear at this point, and those responsible for the inventory increase generally know they are creating the next crisis. And so the pendulum swings as the organization lurches from crisis to crisis, with the commensurate threats and punishments meted out. In the end, the smart people leave and the mediocre continue to futilely slog away. Perhaps this same fate awaits the citizens of this ineptly managed French village.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.