by George Nott

Clive Rossiter’s stupid rule revolution

Oct 28, 2016
CareersCollaboration SoftwareGovernment

It was personal risk, admits Clive Rossiter, head of the Single Business Service ICT programme at Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.

“I got up in front of my branch of 70 people and I invited our CIO there as a witness. And I said: ‘Okay everybody I’m starting a club, you’re all welcome to join and it’s pretty easy – you just have to take a pledge, and I’m going to take it with you…’”.

Little did he know, Rossiter was about to start a cultural revolution that within six months would see the department’s executive board putting hands on hearts and pledging allegiance.

Who’s with me?

Red tape and lengthy business processes are the bane of any large organisation. The same was true within Rossiter’s Single Business Service programme, an initiative announced in the 2014/15 Budget which aims to make it easier for businesses to find and access government services by integrating the department’s website, contact centre and AusIndustry outreach. The programme sits in the portfolio of Department of Industry, Innovation and Science CIO Matt Boyley.

Bureacracy, form-filling and time-sapping procedures were holding back the department’s ambitions to be agile and swift moving. Innovation, after all, is literally its middle name. So Rossiter gathered his team together to make a change.

“As of today I’ve decided I’m not going to play by stupid rules,” he announced. “And any time you find a stupid rule, if it’s a stupid practice I’m going to set a new standard for that practice. If it’s a stupid policy I’m going to work with the policy element to actually get that changed. And because we won’t always win at this if all else fails I’m going to comply with all these stupid rules in the least stupid way possible. Who’s with me?”

Most of the team took to their feet and made the pledge.

“But then we went back and we started doing it,” Rossiter told the Gartner Symposium on the Gold Coast last week, in conversation with Avanade’s Sarah Adam-Gedge. “And it was amazing how quickly we identified stupid rules and started to change things.”

Own the problem

An integral part of the ‘movement’, as Rossiter calls it, is that complainants take responsibility to make the change they want. They are encouraged to take responsibility and collaborate with the appropriate colleagues, although sometimes resource is applied if necessary.

“If you identify a stupid rule in a different area you need to recognise that area’s pretty busy too, they’ve got their own priorities,” he says. “You need to be part of owning that problem. So the effort came from them rather than having a group over here you hand your stupid rule to and they’ll go fix it.”

The result has been revisions in the approach to security review processes, change release processes and legal processes around the way contracts are formulated for standard software offerings. The concept has since been applied to non-IT related processes such as how accommodation bookings are made.

A challenging culture

“This group of 70 people within an organisation of 2600 actually started to change these fundamental ways that we did things,” Rossiter said. “We had other divisions asking us to come and talk about it. They took the pledge. And I think where it really reached its peak was about six months in where our executive board caught onto it and in the executive board meeting they all stood up and took the pledge too.”

The stupid rule revolution has proved more effective than the common, occasional red tape reduction days or ideas campaigns by becoming part of the culture, Rossiter said.

“They typically follow the same sort of process: you announce the initiative, you give people a deadline, you let them submit some ideas, some sort of process for selecting the best whether it’s peer voting or a committee and maybe you implement a couple of them and that’s a positive. But at the end of the day everyone just goes back to business as usual,” Rossiter said. “I wanted to try and start a movement.”

“It’s an example of where we’ve really tried to experiment with: How do we change our culture and make our culture more innovative? One of the things we see as important is having people challenge the status quo. And not just allowing them to but expecting them to.”