First Thing We Do, Let’s Throw Out All the Policies


What it means to free up our workers from our oppressive company policy manuals

Free up our workers from our oppressive company policy manuals? Why that’s absolute heresy! For many people, they live and die by rules. Like Miss Manners, or Congress, they make their living by (literally) legislating how people should live their lives. As a rowdy teenager, the one rule I lived by was that rules were meant to be broken. And I’ve carried that joie de vivre with me into adulthood.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it. It’s different in the “real world.” We can’t be so cavalier with our anti-rule attitude. As a small business owner, I understand. We need a guidebook to help us do our work. A guidebook that establishes how we do our work easily, safely, consistently and efficiently.

I also understand that many rules are mandated—our legislators at work. Quite frankly, I’m grateful for many laws that protect my health and safety and that establish fairness and equity.

In our businesses, though, we’ve got too many rules. Our policy manuals are stuffed full of rules and regulations. Like I said earlier, some of them we can’t do anything about. They are the law.

But the others? What purpose do they serve? These policies serve the purpose of eliminating communication. They serve the purpose of replacing common sense. They legislate behavior rather than facilitating rational decision-making. And they institutionalize fear-mongering (which are rules based on rarely-will-it-ever-happen worst-case scenarios).

Replace rules with trust and communication.

Instead of trusting people to use their discretion to do things in the best interest of the company, we develop policies based on irrational fears of worst case scenarios. When people do the wrong thing, instead of creating a policy, we should have a conversation with them. Tell them what they did wrong. Ask them why they did it. Explain why it is wrong and why they shouldn’t do it again. Or, if their explanation makes sense, make changes. After all, the stupidest of all policies is “because we’ve always done it this way.”

Real leaders don’t need no stinkin’ rules.

When we start to legislate behavior or use rules as a substitute for quality supervision/management/ leadership, that’s when we get into trouble. It happens all the time. A manager doesn’t want to deal with a problem, and hopes against hope that the problem will go away. Which it never does. So the small problem now turns into a big problem. Big implications. Big consequences. But instead of dealing with the original problem (or the failure of the manager), the company creates a policy.

Bad behavior by one person—that a manager was incapable of addressing—now gets codified in the policy manual for eternity. Facebook blocking technology, anyone?

That’s how the technology to block Facebook came about. Someone’s manager was too weak to tell that person to get off Facebook and get back to work. The solution, then, was to craft a policy and implement a technology to prevent employees from ever using Facebook again. That’s quite a system you got there.

Strong core values eat policies for breakfast.

Confident and proactive managers make policies irrelevant. Another critical factor in policy obsolescence is strong core values. If all our employees understand our core values (which delineate what we stand for and why we’re here), then they will be able to judge for themselves what is appropriate behavior. If delivering lousy customer service and ignoring the ringing phone and not completing high quality work in a timely fashion is not among our core values, when people violate our core values, we have a clear path for disciplinary action. We don’t need no stinkin’ policy to make that determination. We just need common sense and strong core values.

With apologies to Shakespeare for ruining his prose: First thing we do, let’s throw out all the policies.


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