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Executive Leadership: Over-Policing
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Executive Leadership: Over-Policing - Executive Leadership Articles

Executive Leadership: Over-Policing

Executive Leadership Articles

Executive Leadership: Over-Policing

Official policies are a lot like little lies: once you create one, you have to keep creating more in order to maintain the authority of the first. Create one rule that regulates behavior in the break room, for example, and you’ve basically made every other behavior permissible until there are rules to cover them. “You gave us a rule about A,” is the argument, “but there’s no rule about B.” The rule you created was about the break room, not about the patio in front of the building. The rule you created was about the refrigerator, but it doesn’t cover the use of the microwave oven. Your first rule was about break time, but we were in there before the beginning of the workday.

This is not to say that you can’t (or shouldn’t) have important policies, but good policies are about workplace culture and professionalism, not about specific behaviors. You need a policy about vacation time, but you don’t need one about paper towels in the restroom. You might need guidelines about use of the logo in correspondence, but you probably don’t need guidelines about personal emails in the office. Articulating specific policy for specific behaviors turns you into a micromanager, someone who doesn’t trust the professionals in your care to behave like the professionals you expect, which sets the bar so low that it begs them to limbo beneath it.

However, conceding the necessity of a certain kind of oversight, even policies falling safely in the understandable, acceptable realm of professionalism can be misguided. If you’re keeping records of who arrives at her desk a few minutes late, you’re probably tempted to set a hardline on when the workday begins. Yet your salaried professionals don’t need this kind of monitoring, nor do they need a rule. They need to be trusted to do their jobs responsibly and excellently, and if a few minutes here or there is your biggest complaint, you’re worrying far too much. If the employee in question isn’t delivering as expected, that becomes the real issue, not the fifteen minutes beginning the work day.

In his recent book, Work Rules!, Google’s Senior Vice President of People Operations Laszlo Bock says that if you aren’t slightly nervous about what your employees might do, you haven’t given them enough power. Yes, an unfiltered access to the Internet from work computers is a dangerous thing, but if your web filter is so restrictive that it blocks visits to sports news, food blogs, social media, and online chat, you’re taking away a lot of the space where creative people might get their ideas, or pathways to information about what’s going on in the world, and these are only the practical consequences. Repeated blocking of websites sought in actual, valid, work-related tasks is a daily reminder that you don’t trust your people to be professionals. This is also true for attendance at conferences, hours spent working remotely, and two-hour lunch meetings.

You already know that if you treat your professionals like drones, soon that’s all you be left with. But the red zone begins long before drone levels: you don’t want to treat them like drones, but neither do you want to treat them like children, like parolees, like trained animals, or like stupid people. Are your policies the sort that encourage good, critical thinking and proactivity, or are they reactions against behaviors that you simply aren’t comfortable with? If you’re picking up a vibe that says your people feel oppressed by invasive regulation, talk to your HR people about what needs to be left in for legal reasons; then cut everything away and see if you can start again from a healthy, open, trusting place where professionalism is assumed.


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