This year, as I often do, I managed to watch the last 5 minutes of the Super Bowl. The fact that it's taken this long for me to write anything about it is evidence of how important the game is to me. But there's one particular scene from this year's game that really stuck in my head. It's about the closest I ever hope to come to using a sports metaphor for organizations.
Right at the end, NY scored the winning points. Everyone (including me!) knew NY had won and the game was over. People streamed onto the field, the New England coach left (I think), and someone dumped gatorade on someone else. Let the celebration/mourning begin. Whee/Sob (depending on your preference).
A ref decided there was really one second left on the clock! The game wasn't over! Of course, you can't do anything in 1 second. Nothing about that second could affect the outcome of the game at all - not even theoretically. Not even if NY just handed the ball over to the fastest guy in New England. But the field had to be cleared. The players had to be brought back out. And in a magnificent example of meaningless ritual and valuing Process over Results, the QB said Hike, received the ball, and the clock ran out.
*Now* the game was really over. Whew, good thing they played that last second, don't you think?
And it hit me, we do the same thing in our organizations, when we value process over results, when rules become more important than they are useful. We clear the field, bring the players back and go through the motions of "required" activities, even though nothing can change the outcome - not even theoretically. And then we congratulate ourselves on our "due diligence." Sheesh!
Of course, it's a lot easier to excuse a football team for doing something pointless...