Fewer Policies – More Conversations

I know they’re necessary, but I hate policies.

Leaders who love policies hamper leadership and hinder organizations.

empty head


Policies are the result of leadership distance.

The further you are from the action, the more you need policies to control people that you don’t know and outcomes that you can’t see.


  1. Instruct new employees.
  2. Guarantee outcomes in large or growing organizations.
  3. Answer reporting needs in highly regulated industries.

Excessive policies:

  1. Create busy work.
  2. Make weak leaders feel powerful.
  3. Drain energy from people who actually do the work.
  4. Stifle creativity and innovation. If you do all the thinking, they feel like trained monkeys.
  5. Protect and promote inept employees. Did you just write a policy that applies to a lousy employee, but hobbles everyone else?

Writing policies:

Policies are pattern makers.

  1. Don’t write a policy for an exception. Protect the freedom of employees by taking time to deal with exceptions as exceptions.
  2. Write policies in response to negative patterns.
  3. Establish high-standards not baselines with policies. Don’t write policies that describe minimums. If you do, you’ll get mediocrity.
  4. Rewrite policies if you frequently make exceptions. Enforce policies; don’t turn a blind eye.
  5. Describe what you want, more than what you don’t want.

Bridging distance:

According to Forbes, the third richest man in the world is Amancio Ortega (66.5 billion). You might imagine Amancio sitting at a huge desk in a posh office. But, when he worked at his company, he sat at an open table rubbing shoulders with his designers and buyers.

Here’s a policy you might try: Minimize or eliminate policies that create distance between leaders, managers, and employees.

Choose conversations over policies.

Policies are necessities. Just don’t hide behind them.

Warning: Once you write a policy it’s like the ten commandments, written in stone.

What are the marks of a good policy?

When do policies go wrong?