How to Stop Writing so Many Policies
Fear drives excessive policy-making. But policies don’t ignite passion.
Excessive policy-making hobbles employees and hinders organizations.
Policies are written for protection and often explain what shouldn’t or can’t be done.
Remarkable organizations are never built by simply NOT doing stuff.
- Lowers engagement.
- Hampers creativity.
- Impedes progress.
- Eliminates thinking.
- Quenches passion.
- Creates busy work.
- Protects and promotes the inept. You didn’t just write a policy that applies to a lousy employee and shackles everyone else, did you?
Policies are necessary and useful, especially in highly regulated industries. Write policies that express values and honor excellence.
- Instruct new employees.
- Punish wrong behaviors.
- Protect the disadvantaged.
- Guarantee minimum outcomes.
- Answer reporting needs.
Distance and disconnection make excessive policy-making necessary. The further you are from the action, the more you need policies to control people. Excessive policy-making comforts leaders who don’t know their people and need control.
Policies establish patterns.
- Don’t write policies for exceptions. Protect freedom. Deal with exceptions as exceptions.
- Write policies in response to negative patterns. But do your best to describe what you want, more than what you don’t want.
- Establish high-standards, not baselines, with policies. Don’t write policies that describe minimums. If you do, you’ll get mediocrity.
- Rewrite policies if you frequently make exceptions.
- Enforce policies; don’t turn a blind eye.
- Minimize or eliminate policies that create distance between leaders, managers, and employees.
- Twice a year, review policies. Eliminate unnecessary, irrelevant, or oppressive policies.
According to Forbes, the sixth richest man in the world is Amancio Ortega (70 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 designers and buyers.
Choose conversations over policies.
Policies are necessities. Just don’t hide behind them.
How might leaders minimize excessive policy-making?
Standers, SOP’s, Protocols, Policy, Guides, Rules, Practices do we need all of these? Recently a team gold fish died (I knew it would). I let them deal with it to see what they would do. They dealt with the loss of their friend and talked about how to make sure it didn’t happen again. So new fish so I asked what they did to make sure this fish lived. Was told we have a task book that each person must complete too be allowed to feed or clean the tank. Wow ok go team?? Or am I setting to many rules in writing?
Thanks Walt. It’s freeing when teams set their own rules and restricting when someone sets rules for them. That’s the message I take from your comment, Walt.
In highly regulated environments, business isn’t driven by innovation. Don’t let anyone tell you it is, because that is a lie. What drives a business like that is the worry that somebody, somewhere will do something wrong and get the company sued. If something goes wrong, the first question a regulator asks is to see the policies/SOP’s and Protocols, so they can pick them to pieces.
The winner isn’t the firm with the most innovative products, it’s the one that gets sued less. While the driver is fear and defence, policy making will be the winner.
Lived through a lot of bad education policy/fear in public education. Thanks for sharing will help me when I do leadership consulting.
Numerous good observations here! I spent much of the last ten years of my career in law enforcement agency policy development. Protection from litigation drives much of this activity, and is imposed by insurers, risk managers and accreditation bodies. I readily agree that performance is better served by using policies as you recommend, but these other considerations are facts of life in our litigious society.
In conjunction with my role as a trainer, I was much fonder of developing policies that set standards, explained organizational values and ethics, instructed employees on how to achieve expected outcomes and the consequences for poor (or non-) performance. Policy can Illuminate the path to a successful career, or pour water on enthusiasm and initiative. Choose wisely!
Thank you for your post. I am chief auditor for 170 years old, 60,000 employees retail firm distributed in approx. 400 locations. Corporate culture is to keep rules at a minimum so that our go-getter employees can hel solve our clients needs. I have been pushing the need for policy update and have a challenge ahead. I appreciate the comments above about policy making from a positive definition boy what we want to accomplish raher than fear (“being sued”).
Perfect timing in my life. Thank you for the reinforcing points.