The Problem with Policies


Leadership can be more difficult without policies—even a little messy, but with less policies you’ll have more opportunities for success.

I’ll be honest. I’m not a huge fan of policies. It may be because I’m not a very good rule follower, but I honestly don’t think they work as well as they are intended. 

Policies are a course, plan or principle of action. They are designed to offer a sense of control. In theory, policies are to make things better. They are a necessary part of dealing with people in an organizational setting.

My problem with polices is that they often interrupt progress rather than enhance it. If not careful, a policy may control the success you want to see as a leader.

Here are 4 reasons I hate policies:

Policies control a sense of freedom – Policies, by nature, are methods of control, which can limit people’s sense of freedom.

Policies limit ability to think outside the box – Policies can limit thoughts to a pre-determined outcome, which keeps the random and potentially explosive thoughts from developing.

Policies stall attempts at excellence – The parameters of a policy often produce an atmosphere of mediocrity.

Policies curtail the pursuit of progress – The weight of meeting a policy’s demands can take energy from pursuing things with the opportunity of greater progress.

My suggestion?

In lieu of a policy, here are 4 suggestions:

Handle individual problems individually – Rather than create a new policy to control an issue, deal directly with the individual who needs more control. (It works…try it.)

Treat people differently – If a team has more than one person, then there will be more than one type of person on the team. Did you follow that? Policies treat everyone the same, which ignores individuality and personality differences.

Lead rather than manage – Management is much about implementing policies and seeing they are adhered to completely. Leadership sets a vision and guides people towards it. Less policies are needed in that process.

Allow for more mistakes – Policies are easier to measure. They have a pass/fail assessment attached to them. Without policies, grace and forgiveness can be more freely applied. People can learn from their failures, without the repercussions of breaking a policy.

My bottom line:

I’m not suggesting we can do without policies, but I am suggesting they should not be the “go to” solution to a problem. Most problems in an organization don’t need a new policy. Policies can weigh down progress. Leadership can be more difficult without policies—even a little messy, but with less policies you’ll have more opportunities for success.

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