Does Your Organization Need Less Policy?

“Do we need a policy for that?” It is a question I hear often. The longer I lead, the less I am a fan of policy. 

PolicyIn his manifesto, Flip, Daniel Pink challenges my thinking with a section on policy. I challenge you to chew on a couple of sections from his work.

Pink refers to former 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 write, “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.

[Tweet “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?

It’s time to start looking for some new people.

Leadership Begins at Home,

Randy

What are your thoughts about policy in an organization?

Comment Below …

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Don S

6 years ago

I love this quote from the book, REWORK:
“Policies are organizational scar tissue. They are codified overreations to situations that are unlikely to happen again. They are collective punishment for the misdeeds of an individual. This is how bureaucracies are born. No one sets out to create a bureaucracy. They sneak up on companies slowly. They are created one policy — one scar — at a time. So don’t scar on the first cut. Don’t create a policy because one person did something wrong once. Policies are only meant for situations that come up over and over again.”

Randy

6 years ago

Awesome quote, Don! Thanks for sharing.

Ray Green

6 years ago

Ok Randy…Lol..where is the secret cameral? Smiles. Really can relate to this blog. Reading “Just Listen” by Mark Miller and this correlates to what I am connecting with in his book. It’s all in the heart of what you want to produce. As always…thanks for leading the way to a “transformed mind” daily seeking to grow.
Ray

Randy

6 years ago

Thanks, Ray!

Lainie Gresham

6 years ago

As I am sitting here at my desk, surrounded by HR laws, regulations and rules that are either in play or threatening to be, I cannot imagine not having policy…
While I 100% agree to not being able to regulate behavior, you can and have to regulate action – take the speed limit – no, the police cannot regulate how you “feel” about the limit and they may cannot regulate how fast you drive, that is, until you are caught – then, you are regulated…
I agree that there are at times an over abundance of policy and yes, it is very important to hire and trust the right people, however when policy is kept in good balance and for the morale and standard of the company, I look at it as not what you “can’t” do, but look at what all you “can” do… you just have boundaries.

Randy

6 years ago

Great comment, Lainie. I appreciate your perspective and for pushing on my policy rant!

Paul Hastie

6 years ago

Hi Randy,
I used to manage three very busy popular chain restaurants for a number of years. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that excess policy and extreme micromanagement of said policies held the business back. My senior regional manager obsessed compulsively over policy so much so as to completely demoralise my management team leading to a number of them leaving. Eventually I followed suit. I like to think there should be some form of policy boundary but the second it leads to missing the bigger picture at stake, it’s time for a rethink.
What’s your thoughts on micromanagement? For me that was the real underlying issue surrounding policy.

Randy

6 years ago

Not a fan of micromanagement, Paul. Much better, in my opinion, to hire eagles, train them, and encourage them to fly. Evaluate, retrain, and keep encouraging them to soar!

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