Policy Is No Policy!


When we see our organizations as machines, we see employees as resources. It isn’t a coincidence that we build departments called “Human Resources”… When this is the case, we treat them as we treat machines… We don’t trust them and we constantly try to increase their reliability with regular control and maintenance by lubricating them via more and more policies.

When we review our daily lives, where do we encounter policies? One example would be traffic… As Doug Kirkpatrick states by providing the example of England’s Swindon roundabout with seven roundabouts, in one, roundabouts have better safety statistics. Why? Because they have fewer policies:

  1. Give way to any vehicle in the roundabout,
  2. Take extra care to get the correct lane while exiting the roundabout

Doesn’t life at the workplace flow similar to the traffic? You encounter many junctions, such as cars at the roundabouts, in the workplace. Each time you have to make a decision, making sure you abide by whole policies, you hesitate and waste time to take action. If you have so many policies, then this will congest the traffic and even lead to accidents in your organization.

From another point of view, you may resemble this policy based management to the parent child relationship in Transactional Analysis. Take travel expense policies as an example… You establish so many rules implying to your employees that you don’t trust them to make wise decisions. By doing so, you treat them like children. As a result, they start to act like one, by pushing the expense limits and trying to manipulate the system. According to Corporate Rebels “Many pioneers agree that only 3% of the workforce is likely to take advantage of the system. This means that rules are implemented to keep this rogue 3% in line, which stifles the productivity, autonomy and joy of the 97%

Ricardo Semler, in his book “Maverick” augments this irony in a nutshell: “If we are afraid to let people decide in which section of the plane to sit, or how many stars their hotel should have, we shouldn’t be sending them abroad to do business in our name, should we?”

We may enumerate the examples of these treat-like-children type of policies: 09.00 a.m.- 06.00 p.m. working hours, mobile phone usage limits, IT policies, internet usage quotas, company car usage limits… etc. Now, imagine, during a day, how many times do we force our employees to hesitate and waste time on childish controls and lead them to frustrations instead of releasing them to focus on creating value?

Is there another way? Is it possible to live with few or no policies? Ricardo Semler says “Semco’s standard policy is no policy”. Morning Star asks from employees to embrace two core principles:

  1. Workers should not use force against others — all interactions should be voluntary.
  2. Workers should honor the commitments they make to others.

There are no purchasing departments at FAVI or Sun Hydraulics. These authorities are distributed to all employees and those employees are trusted for their decisions. Accountabilities come with responsibilities. The employees work in a self-managed way to handle these issues and the results are spectacular according to Frederic Laloux, in Reinventing Organizations.

These are various companies of different sizes: Morning Star ~8.000, Sun Hydraulics ~2000, FAVI ~400. If this self-managing way of working is possible in those companies, why wouldn’t it be possible in yours? What would be the first step to take for evolving to such an organization?




Restartlab is a cross-industry think tank organization that uses co-creation for solving real world business problems and redefining the “work” concept.

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Restartlab is a cross-industry think tank organization that uses co-creation for solving real world business problems and redefining the “work” concept.

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