Escaping the Policy Trap: Why young companies start implementing policies (and how to avoid them)
When it comes to non value add activities in business, policy creation takes top spot. Trouble starts the moment your organization slips into control by policy. The breakdown of trust is underway.
Early in my career I rocked it as a master policy writer. I took great pride in my superb ability to foresee every exception and close every loophole.
I’ve since learned from my mistakes. I now see policies for what they often are—an attempt by one person to control another.
I recently connected with one of the most progressive CEOs in my network. He shared his view on the topic. “Policies are put in place to manage the 1% at the detriment of the 99%.”
Why would we do that? Why go to so much effort to punish the 99%? The answer is simple but perhaps not obvious.
The love affair with policies
At the core of policy development is predictability and structure. They create restrictions and limitations. For those of us with perfectionistic tendencies, control is like a comfortable blanket. It keeps us safe.
That explains why some people love policies. But what about the non-perfectionists who aren’t drawn to structure? Why doesn’t this group rebel and topple the policy fortress before it’s too big?
It turns out that the heart of the issue is fear. We are afraid of having difficult, important conversations with each other. Policies, even terrible ones, provide us with a safety net. When a problem requires a difficult conversation, we have control on our side.
Escaping the policy trap
If someone in your organization proposes a policy, ask these three questions:
What is prompting the need for this policy? (Dig for the details)
Can a difficult conversation with a small group of people solve this issue?
If we don’t create a policy, how else can we help people manage this type of issue in the future?
Re-framing the issue
If you’re still with me and looking for ways to escape the policy trap, consider the following options as alternatives.
Your company values should be the first go to. Do you have a company value that provides guidance on this issue? Do you need to provide more clarity around your values? If you don’t have a company value that provides adequate guidance, should you?
Let’s assume the issue doesn’t fit into the values category. Does the team need a decision-making framework? What help can you provide that opens possibilities and offers flexibility? Better yet, how can you guide the team in developing it’s own framework? Think of this as clarifying “how we choose to work together.”
Often information gets presented as a policy when it’s actually a benefit. Vacations are a prime example. One option is to document the information as a limitation placed on the team. Lay it out instead as the extra perk that it is.
Most governments, at least in the western world, provide significant direction on employment relationships. If there are laws in place, everything you offer above that legal baseline is a benefit. Leverage the government framework rather than creating your own.
Intrigued by this idea? I coach leaders on building a strong foundation unique to their growing business.