Time to get rid of your rules

HR policies and manuals suffocate great people and stifle innovation

Do you want more loyal, productive people and a more profitable company? It’s time to get rid of your rules. They are having the opposite effect from what you had hoped.

As the Industrial Age fades in the rearview mirror, people want to Make Meaning, not just money. Rules don’t cut it anymore. They set a tone that post-modern people find demeaning and even stifling. Rules must be replaced with a simple set of Guiding Principles.

Valve Corporation gives new hires a handbook full of cartoons that says it’s not about HR policies like “fringe benefits”. It specifically says it’s nothing more than “guiding principles” and states that the handbook is simply, “A fearless adventure in knowing what to do when no one’s there to tell you what to do.”

Instead of an HR Manual, Semco gives each new hire their Survival Manual that proactively discourages the idea of rules.   Under the topic of “work environment”, it confirms “people must feel free to change and adapt it”, because there are no rules. Semco’s leader, Ricardo Semler says, “In their quest for law, order, stability and predictability, corporations make rules. All those rules cause employees to forget that a company needs to be creative and adaptive to survive. Rules slow it down.”

Hundreds of other large corporations and thousands of smaller ones are following suit and dumping rules for broader, less proscriptive guidelines. It’s not counter-intuitive, but counter logical – when you replace endless rules with just a few freeing principles, people perform better.

For 150 years, the Industrial Age Factory System has created an endless and relentlessly growing mountain of work rules to live by. But the emerging work world of the Participation Age has replaced rules with a few broader guidelines that create ownership, freedom, teamwork, and creative involvement for the employee.

In the emerging work world, you must create “ownership” by encouraging people to make decisions. Rules discourage decision-making. Guiding principles give people their brains back and encourage (even require) decision-making. How are you leading? By suffocating rules, or by guiding principles that create freedom and encourage participation?

Rules are the easy, lazy way out. W. L. Gore, founder of a $3 billion company focused on a few guiding principles, said, ““The simplicity and order of an authoritarian organization make it an almost irresistible temptation. Yet it is counter to the principles of individual freedom and smothers the creative growth of man.”  

Are simplicity and order your primary objectives for the workplace? Then just impose a mountain of rules and everyone will be sufficiently suffocated and will raise themselves to your lowest expectation of them. Are freedom, creativity, growth, participation and higher revenues your goal? Then dump the rules. Sit down for a day with everyone and decide what the very few guiding principles are that will make you a great organization and take you to the next level.

Get rid of the rules and you will create an environment for wildly successful people to build a great company not for you, but with you.

Categories: Management & Leadership, Web Exclusives