Recently I learnt about a decision process my 8 year old son has been taught to use by his school. When making decisions, he asks himself three questions that all have to be answered with a yes in order to proceed:
- Is it safe?
- Is it fair?
- Would an adult ask you to do it?
I love the simplicity of this approach. Children from 5 years old are able to use these three questions to successfully guide their choices and behaviour in alignment with the school's values. Having seen the children in the playground first hand, I admire the inclusive and caring results of this approach where I've only ever seen the children playing well together. If a child does misbehave, it's a conversation that refers back to the known expectations from the 3 questions.
Compare this approach with the traditional corporate approach where there's an employee handbook made up of 50 policies that continually grow as the years tick past. Companies have been conditioned from a historical practice of 'command and control' where policies are implemented to exercise the 'control' component. Anytime there is a staff issue the standard operating procedure is to check the handbook of policies and see if one can be pulled out to beat the staff member over the head with. If you can't find a suitable policy for the beating, then write a new policy to ensure you never get caught out with the same situation again.
As a result, we have hundreds of pages of policies, developed over years and years, based on blue moon events, all in an effort to ensure we can 'police' and 'control' the staff. We've been conditioned by corporate norms that this is great because it mitigates our business risks, right? But what if we are slowly strangling the company, one policy at a time. Starving the company and the team from any breath of innovation, trust, engagement, happiness or accountability.
What's even more crazy with this approach is the policy collection will never be finished because new events will always occur. Furthermore no one could possibly know all the rules and it becomes a trap for staff. The policies are lying dormant, waiting for the moment a staff member steps out of line so they can jump into action.
We need to look at the underlying message that's screaming out to the team......"We don't trust you! We don't trust you to do your job, we don't trust you to do the right thing, and we don't trust you to think." What's even more interesting is this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and you should expect to see a culture of mistrust propagate because that is how you are inadvertently treating your team with all these policies.
What if we get rid of these policies and replace them with a principles based approach similar to the school. At Crewmojo we're using:
- Is it fair?
- Would a team mate ask you to do it?
- Would a customer ask you to do it?
I can hear the screams now... "We can't do that!". This leads to an interesting point that our sophistimacated Internets research tells us. Leaders can be split into two buckets, which one do you fall into to?
- Do you assume the staff are there to rip you off, take what they can get and do the minimal possible amount of work; or
- Do you assume the staff are there because they want to contribute, be the best they can and help the company succeed.
Those who fall into the first bucket are usually in favour of many policies. Those who fall into the second bucket are more comfortable with a principles based approach and giving staff a framework to make decisions in, rather than attempting to map out the minutia of every day.
Looking at a practical example that's always received a lot of media attention for being a crazy, out-there concept, is the idea of scrapping the annual leave policy in favour of unlimited annual leave. On face value, the company might be giving unlimited annual leave, but the staff are receiving something completely different. The staff are receiving authentic, unadulterated trust, they feel trusted with the freedom to make decisions about a topic of self interest. You don't hear stories of these schemes being abused. Why? Because the team want to reciprocate the same level of trust they have received.
I acknowledge a principles based approach is not always right, usually in cases where lives are at stake, for example you wouldn't want an airline mechanic experimenting with his own maintenance procedures. In organisations where a principles based approach is implemented, you have to accept there will be mistakes. The key is to recognise for every mistake that is made, there would have been countless instances of innovation and progression that were empowered to occur as a result of not having a restrictive policy.