A Silly Example of Mandates and Threats Not Working

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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?

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent book is the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus. His latest book has been released as an "in-progress" book, titled Measures of Success.

3 Comments
  1. Dean Bliss says

    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. jeff thell says

    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.

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