A good deal of organizations are goverened by rules. The Personnel department is the police in charge of communicating the rules and or catching defaulters. Thou shalt not this, thou shalt not that. Don’t mind me, they may not sound quite as old as that, but there are words that get used in the office environment and everybody keeps quiet – e.g. “policy”.
For example, you have a visitor, the visitor is sitting in the reception area, and just before you go over to invite her in to join you for lunch in the company cafeteria, you stop by your HR/Admin/Personnel managers table to confirm, and she/he tells you, “No, you can’t do that, that’s against our policy.” Does that sound familiar? Or you want a somone to referee you for your masters degree, you don’t want to leave the company yet (you know?), they just want someone to agree you do what you said you do. HR finds out, and it’s once again “not in line with policy”. Or is it overtime? Per Diem? Out of station allowance? e.t.c? The standard resonse is “Go and check your employee Hand (should have Been -RULE)book. I’m not saying these things are right, or should be practiced in every organization, just follow me. These are examples of rules, how do you know it’s a rule? If someone needs to tell you what gives or what holds, it’s a rule. The reasons are not clear or needed, the word “policy” settles it.
How are principles different? What characteristics show that an organization is principle based. I’m not talking about lip service, every organization pays some level of lip service or the other to being principle based. A truely principle based organization places more emphasis on key values and resulting principles that govern how business will be done. These values and principles are clearly communicated to all employees, in such a way that they become the basis for making decisions. Let’s take for example an organization that says one of it’s values is ownership. An example of a principle that can emmanate from this is, “We all behave like owners of the business”. With a principle like this in place, an employee can answer each of the questions he needs a policy to answer by simply asking, what would I have done, if the business was mine! If I turn the tables, will I sign to guarantee my employee to go for a masters when that masters is doom for my business? Will I allow my direct report to invite his visitor into the cafeteria and spend the time we pay him for? Are these things good business ownership traits? Or do the circumstances that surround today make it clear that it is indeed better for him to take his visitor in?
The problem with rules are they are constant, irrespective of the situation or intents. This means that it’s the same tool applied to issues that may be have different intents. This makes the results different and unpredicatable. While principles on the other hand address the objective and values of the organization. The principled approach looks at the issue from different angles while maintaining the integrity of the desired results. With this approach the tool can change depending on the intents, and the results can be consistently predictable. Organizational results are likely to be consistently better if we use principles rather than rules.
Yeah…go ahead and blame HR! But before you get too engrossed, realize that you are the HR manager to everybody you manage. So rather than point the one finger out, look at what the other fingers are doing? Do you manage by rules or by principles? Do you manage by processes or by objectives? How about your life, do you follow rules or do you have principles and deep seated values?
Have you ever heard of the potato model?