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Principles, Not Policies Drive Performance Effectiveness

by David Brock on December 26th, 2012

“The beatings will continue until you get is right!”  OK, so I’ve taken a bit of an extreme position, but I’m constantly amazed at how many executives believe that they can mandate their way to performance improvement.

It starts out harmlessly, some policies, some rules.  “Please comply with the following procedures…..”  We’ve all seen them.  Some of us have unwittingly put these in place.  Don’t get me wrong, rules and policies have their place.  But they aren’t the most impactful means of driving and sustaining performance improvement.

Everything starts with basic principles—How do we hold the customer?  How do we feel about teamwork and internal collaboration?  How do we want to be perceived by our customers, employees, shareholders, and community?  What is the customer experience we want to create?  How do we create value?  How do we differentiate ourselves?  What does performance mean in our organization?  I’m sure I can go on.

We can never establish the rules, policies and procedures that cover everything we face in our work environment.  We can never establish the policies that cover every possible situation, with every customers.  That’s why principles are important.  Principles give us a foundation.  They provide each person in the organization a basis for handling everything that comes up.

A problem comes up with a customer, how do we deal with it?  What’s the rule book say?  Principles make it simple–they provide us the framework for evaluating a situation and taking action that is consistent with our principles–but for which rules, policies, and procedures have not been defined.

Principles enable everyone in the organization to make decisions, to take actions, and to move forward in a way that is consistent with the beliefs and values of the organization.  They allow us to work efficiently and effectively — without having to check the rules, or delegate things upward to our managers for decisions.  This autonomy enables us to perform at the highest levels possible.  It enables great nimbleness, speed, responsiveness, and cohesiveness in the organization.

Principles enable us to quickly know what’s “Right,” and to take action based on this.

Principles enable huge personal freedom and creativity–so we must behave in ways that reinforce the principles.

They enable an environment of trust and collaboration–they provide us the foundation for working together because we want to and we value our colleagues.  We don’t have to “go to the rule book,” because we can figure it out and do what’s right ourselves.

It’s a great time to reflect on your own organization.  Are you having to put a lot of rules, policies and procedures in place?  Do you worry about compliance and constantly measure it?  Do you see your decision-making slowing down?  Do you see mis-communications and disagreements escalating or not being resolved?

It may be time to go back to basics.  What are the basic principles, values and beliefs in the organization?  Do we really believe in them?  Does leadership set a personal example of this every day?  Do we constantly communicate and reinforce these in our behaviors and actions.  Do we recognize those that demonstrate them in their every day work?  Do we coach those who don’t recognize them?

The funny thing about principles is they make everything so much easier.  We don’t have to worry about rules, procedures, policies.

What guides your organization?  Principles or the policies?

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