Business & Leadership Behaviors

Controlling Loopholes without Creating Nooses

It’s mid-January. So that typically means that New Year’s Resolutions are either in full swing, are starting to destabilize or have been set aside altogether. Questions like “does walking into the donut shop count as cardio” are not a good sign that the Getting Healthy resolution you were so excited about in December will make it to February.

Letter of the Law vs. Intent

What’s funny to me is how it seems to be human nature to look for the loopholes in rules – whether imposed on us or self-defined like with a New Year’s Resolution. I think very few of us set out to be rule-breakers (unless you’re my brother). But the slide to rule breakage seems to start when an interpretation of a rule is followed – but not necessarily the intent of the rule itself.

For example, take my neighbor Joe’s son. Joe’s son had asked him if he could go to a party at his friend’s house on Sunday (New Year’s Eve). Joe asked if the parents would be there. His son responded that yes, the parents would be there Sunday. What he left out was that they would be there during the day – but not on Sunday night.

So while his son answered the question with an honest statement, he knew that wasn’t Joe’s intent in asking. His son found the loop hole. And his son also found a pile of chores to go with his grounding once Joe found out the whole truth.

Looking for Loopholes

The reason why people look for loopholes is, in my opinion, that it’s human nature to look for the easy route to get what you want. You see it from very young ages (going to Dad when Mom said no). You see it in teenagers (remember Cliff Notes?). You see it in organizations (tax loopholes?). I’d be willing to bet you’ve seen it in your staff.

A common loophole that we see with our clients is with their annual inventory process – particularly if their current process involves manually going out and verifying assets. Those activities take time, are usually in addition to their other work and typically don’t fall into the fun category. It is a prime candidate to be skirted by a loophole.

In a manual process, staff is given a roster of assets to verify and is asked to return the roster once their inventory is complete. Sometimes what happens is that the roster is given a visual review, may be met with a “yeah, that looks about right” and it is returned.

They’ve done the job, right? They reviewed the inventory and returned the post-inventory approved information on the roster.

This probably wasn’t what management had in mind.

There is usually a good reason why a rule or procedure was put in place. In the case of an inventory – it is likely so that the asset data in the company’s financial system is accurate. This can be really important if you want your company’s spending/planning/management/etc. decisions based on good information.

Avoiding the Noose

Usually when you hear about people finding loopholes, the first reaction is to ensure that any loopholes are closed. I’ve found this to be the trigger for more overworked procedures and processes than you can imagine.

That doesn’t necessarily help the situation.

If a process becomes too cumbersome to do, in the case of an inventory, it will likely (and repeatedly) be put off or stretched out. So what information is returned certainly isn’t timely – and may no longer be completely accurate.

Finding the Balance in the Big Picture

When trying to find the happy medium between dealing with loopholes, but avoiding a noose-like process, I always start with revisiting the Big Picture. What are you trying to accomplish?

On the management side, the goal of most asset inventory tasks is to produce timely and accurate data so that decisions can confidently be made.

On the staff side, the goal of dealing with periodic assignments, like inventories, is to try to work them into your other tasks with as little disruption as possible. Keeping it simple definitely helps.

So – Big Picture – we need timely, accurate data collected as quickly and easily as possible. Obviously I’m biased, since I deal in automated asset inventory solutions – but this is a perfect opportunity to put a better tool in place to get the job done.

Adding automation can enable your staff to quickly scan items and update your data. Your inventory activities may actually get done without having to hound the staff. You might even feel confident in making decisions without building in contingencies. Novel concept, huh?


Automation isn’t always the answer to all problems – despite what the programmers in your life may tell you. I think Joe’s approach to knowing where his son is safely located has been met with the classic home confinement method.

However, if you’re having problems trusting your inventory data – or even getting it turned in – let’s talk. Our assets solutions might be the right balanced solution for your organization’s goals.