Do We Need a Policy for That?

“Do we need a policy for that?” It is a question that I hear often. The longer I lead, the less I am a fan of policy. In fact, sometimes the thought of another policy makes my head hurt.

In his manifesto, Flip, Daniel Pink has a section on policy which really has me thinking these days. Let me challenge you to chew on a couple of sections from his work.

Pink refers to Netflix VP of corporate communication, Steve Swasey. Pink writes . . . When asked about his opinion on policy, Swasey says the following: “Rules and policies and regulations and stipulations are innovation killers. People do their best work when they’re unencumbered. If you’re spending a lot of time accounting for the time you’re spending, that’s time you’re not innovating.”

Pink goes on to say, “In his book, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, New York University scholar Clay Shirky argues that ‘when we design systems that assume bad faith from the participants, and whose main purpose is to defend against that nasty behavior, we often foster the very behavior we’re trying to deter. People will push and push the limits of the formal rules, search for every available loophole, and look for ways to game the system when the defenders aren’t watching. By contrast, a structure of rules that assumes good faith can actually encourage that behavior.’ – So if you think people in your organization are predisposed to rip you off, maybe the solution isn’t to build a tighter, more punitive set of rules. Maybe the answer is to hire new people.”

If we are not careful we can find ourselves looking for reasons to say no to our supporters – Especially if we perceive the request will require more work on our part. Perhaps some of us carry around suspicion toward a team member. Maybe a hidden desire to control behavior in the organization.

I hate to break it to you, but you will never be able to legislate behavior. Behavior is a reflection of values and loyalty – A measure of a person’s heart.

If you find yourself uptight over some rule breaker, it might be that you are the one fostering the very behavior you hate. Beginning today, why not flip your thinking and start believing the best in people?

And if you can’t?

Well then, you might need to start looking for some new people.



What are your thoughts about policy and Pink’s statements?

Leave a comment

Coach Brown

9 years ago

Spot on! Processes and procedures are guidelines for the company’s vision in how they do business. Policies & rules are the “police” controls intended to avoid abuse of the processes & procedures by self-serving people. Identifying, hiring, training and directing the “right people” will get the desired results that will require far less rewriting of policies & rules, and micro-management supervision.


9 years ago

Amen Coach!


9 years ago

In his book Drive, Pink discusses ROWE companies who have removed basically “unboxed” their employees and left them alone to work. These companies have grown leaps and bounds after the policies and “expectations” were removed from employees. Very interesting.
Over the past couple of years in my class I have quit assigning a page length to essays. I felt like when I was doing this, the student would always write the minimum assigned pages instead of covering the topic in a way he or she felt appropriate. As a result, students, even my lower level ones, typically write more instead of less without given a limit. I had been limiting my students with a page number instead of turning them loose on a subject. (My only guideline is a good essay is like a good skirt: long enough to cover the subject, short enough to keep it interesting).
After reading Drive, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking through how I limit potential as opposed to releasing it.


9 years ago

Great comment Susan. Keep unleashing those students!

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