For the last two weeks, I have been driving a car with expired license plates.  This is not what I planned.  I’ve talked to representatives in two different states to try to fix the issue.  I want to find a way to become legal, but I’m not allowed to. Let me explain.

I purchased a car from an out of state dealer several weeks ago. I bought it out of state because I wanted a specific make, model, and trim package and they had it available.

As part of the purchase, the dealership agreed to register my car in my home state.   According to the laws of my home state, they had 30 days to register it.

For a reason unknown to me, they took over 45 days to mail the title to the third party processor handling the registration.  During this time, the 30-day temporary registration provided by the dealership expired.

While I waited for the title, I decided that I would renew my temporary registration.  I figured I would need to pay some small fee.  My goal was to comply with state law.

Both my state and the state where I purchased the car would not allow me to get another temporary license.  My state said that they would not issue a temporary plate because the car was purchased in another state.  The other state said they would not issue a second temporary registration.  It wasn’t allowed.

Each state had different answers, but they had the same problem. 

They built a system that didn’t tolerate mistakes.  

Both states have rules that need to be followed and assume the rules would be followed correctly 100% of the time.

Should the dealership have provided the title sooner?  Yes!  But that is not the point.

The reality of life is that things happen.  We are all human, and humans make mistakes.  To assume that people will follow, or even can follow, the rules 100% of the time is an exercise in futility.

All organization have both written and unwritten rules that people are expected to follow.  At times, things will happen and rules will not be complied with.

When this happens, how does your organization handle it?  Do you remind people of the rules?  Do you create more rules? 

A better solution is to plan for failure before it happens

Years ago, I was traveling overseas for work and stopped at a gas station to fill a rental car with gas.  I knew that I needed a receipt for all my credit card purchases, but I didn’t speak the language well enough to know how to ask for it. Every other time I stopped for gas, I was able to find someone who spoke English to ask for a receipt.  When I got back to the home office and told them about the situation, I was firmly reminded by our accounting department about the receipt rule.

Did reminding me about the rule help?  By telling me again, does that make the receipt magically appear?  The problem was not that I forgot; it was unable to comply because of the lack of knowing the local language.

Most of the time, people want to do what is right.  You should never force someone into a situation where they can’t do what is right. Your systems at work should be built to handle failure.  Not just known failure, but also the unknown issues that WILL happen.    

Think about your life.  Do you know of any rules, either written or unwritten, that don’t allow for failure?  Ask yourself, what happens if it is not done according to the rules?  Is there a way to recover from failure?

If the answer is no, then you have systems that allow people to stumble into a no-win situation.  Your digging a pit that will trap anyone that falls into it.

The key is to design the system to handle failure.  Think about ways that people might make mistakes.  Look at past data.  Commit a brainstorming session.  Find ways that systems can fail and assume it will happen.

With my car registration, either state could have planned for a way to allow for another temporary registration, and I would be within the law.  I would be allowed to comply.

The world is complicated.  Situations will arise that you can never plan for. Find ways to allow people to recover from mistakes.  Who knows, you might need to use it. 

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash