Chief Regulatory Officers, legal departments, and other regulatory groups often have a bad reputation with change leaders: they’re seen as risk-averse gatekeepers who reflexively shut down any attempt to try something new. While this is understandably frustrating, it’s important to acknowledge that regulations can serve an important purpose. The truth is that finding the right balance between safety and innovation is difficult—veer too much in one direction, and you’ll run into problems. But that doesn’t mean change is impossible; it just requires a different approach.
Finding the right balance between safety and innovation is difficult—veer too much in one direction, and you’ll run into problems.
If you’re facing a barrier that is literally a law, your short-term efforts might be limited, and you may choose to focus more on long-term efforts to lobby for change. Realistically, though, this path is very difficult, and only taken by large corporations. What’s more common in this scenario is to find other solutions to the problem. For instance, we worked with one organization where the fear of legal implications within their work created massive approval processes and bottlenecks, and attempts to innovate were shut down quickly. So instead, they decided to focus on what within their process they could control, such as an internal approval process that had to go through four levels of the organization. They were able to streamline the process, which meant they could re-dedicate that saved time to other areas of the business that could support more innovation.
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To be clear, we’d never encourage organizations to break the law or act unethically—instead, we’d encourage teams to focus on what they can impact, even in a highly restricted environment. Within your organization, adaptations might consist of:
- Question how much of the restriction comes from the law and how much comes from your organization. Often, what appears to be a regulatory restriction is actually an assumption or internal policy. Focus on what you can change. Ask for context—what’s the reason for the push back? Make sure it is actually the law, not just one person’s interpretation, an industry body recommendation, an internal policy, or “just the way it’s done here.”
- Work with the authorities. Organizations are often afraid to contact regulators because they don’t want to attract attention. However, in some cases, regulators are open to holding conversations and can help you work through the limitations. In fact, they so rarely get these calls that they may actually welcome the opportunity.
- Guide the development of future regulation. Form self-regulatory groups. It may be in the industry’s self-interest to establish a standard.
- Look for new opportunities that the rules create. Sometimes constraints can fuel innovative endeavors. Your organization can’t pursue one avenue—but neither can anyone else. How can you use this to your advantage?
- Find partners who are open to thinking creatively, rather than reflexively saying “no.” Some individuals and vendors are simply more interested in exploring new approaches and working with you to find solutions. At the same time, don’t think of resistance as necessarily antagonistic. People who are saying “no” are trying to protect the organization (and themselves), and if they perceive that you’re actively trying to disregard the law, they’ll immediately shut down the discussion.