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.

Excessive policy-making:

  1. Lowers engagement.
  2. Hampers creativity.
  3. Impedes progress.
  4. Eliminates thinking.
  5. Quenches passion.
  6. Creates busy work.
  7. 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.

  1. Instruct new employees.
  2. Punish wrong behaviors.
  3. Protect the disadvantaged.
  4. Guarantee minimum outcomes.
  5. 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.

Writing policies:

Policies establish patterns.

  1. Don’t write policies for exceptions. Protect freedom. Deal with exceptions as exceptions.
  2. Write policies in response to negative patterns. But do your best to describe what you want, more than what you don’t want.
  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.
  5. Enforce policies; don’t turn a blind eye.
  6. Minimize or eliminate policies that create distance between leaders, managers, and employees.
  7. Twice a year, review policies. Eliminate unnecessary, irrelevant, or oppressive policies.

Bridging distance:

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?