ManuaLife: Masters of Compliance

An acquaintance related this story.  It gives me a newfound respect for the management style that has made ManuaLife the efficient and profitable company that it is today.  Allow me to tell the story from my friend’s observations, though I cannot personally confirm the details.

ManuaLife owns and operates an office complex in Toronto’s Hogg’s Hollow.  They run a tight ship, and it shows.  Very by-the-book.  Nothing is left to chance.  A clear partitioning of initiative keeps innovation in its proper place.  Decisions are made at the highest levels by a small group of well regimented managers.  Policies are reviewed beforehand by teams of lawyers whose job it is to eliminate any possibility of liability or accountability.    The corresponding procedures are carried out by a small army of functionaries that do exactly what they are told, without any deviation whatsoever.    This careful compliance with policy at every level enables ManuaLife to derive maximum profit from its people-friendly image and green-earth branding.

My friend’s story made me realize that it is the kind of company to which a standards’ auditor longs for an assignment.  It begins at the private gym in the complex, a place where workers in the building can take  a break from their busy workday to stay healthy and clean, in keeping with a commercially desireable cultural imprint.

Using these exercise facilities is likewise a matter of careful and deliberate policy execution.  Every six months, workers can pay a small fee, and submit an application (8-pages) to be considered for fitness and shower priviledges.  Again, nothing is left to chance.  Forms are standardized, and forms that do not meet print standards are rejected: they must be one page per sheet, single-sided, letter size, to fit in a letter-size file box in case they are ever needed again.  The requirements have been carefully crafted according to ManuaLife’s policy needs, and in accordance with ISO-recognized risk management frameworks. The representative explains this fitness for purpose: double-sided forms will not fit in the file box; forms printed 2-pages per letter-sized sheet won’t fit either.  Whereas other companies might be tempted to stray from these precision specifications, careful analysis has no doubt determined that the artistic value of a harmonious filing system is worth any conceivable savings that might be realized by a 75% reduction in printing or storage costs.

Attention to detail exends down to every line on the application.  Every form-field demands a response consistent with with the ManuaLife Way.  For example, employees without a specific workplace supervisor, or department, are considered suspicious and are disallowed from using the showers.  This helps to weed out undesireable individuals and companies that do not conform to ManuaLife’s image of how a company should be organized.

Examining this one tiny microcosm of corporate behavior provides great insight into the masterwork of compliance that is ManuaLife.  The astonishing part of this story is the utter glee with which the front line functionaries engage with their tasks while maintaining this level of detail.  I doubt few other companies could compete on this basis.


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