Rules. Which ones really hinder employees, do we understand why, and can we solve them? How do you as a works council, HR, manager or CEO ensure that employees actively think about this, come up with ideas and help set priorities? After all, they know exactly what it is that frustrates them every day.
I remember a lecture on Mintzberg and the usefulness of bureaucracy to manage chaos in growing organizations. Today, it is thought that we need to be flexible, embrace bottom-up decision-making, servant leadership and agility precisely because markets are so fickle. Onward! Right? Down with rules, then? Freedom and trust so we can be creative and solve problems together? As Seth Godin pointed out in his book and TED talk Tribes, people are most easily led in the direction they always wanted to go. In a McKinsey study on stability versus agility, the authors state that modern leadership is the art of removing procedures, structures, and rules that get in the way of change, and keep what is needed.
And which rules and procedures should remain? Which ones are in the way of people changing in a direction they have wanted to go for a long time?
The remarkable thing is that we don’t really appreciate change. At least, not if we have no influence on it, have no part in it, or have no co-ownership of it. We shy away from change when we have no role in it, according to, for example, research from the American Psychology Association on Well-Being. Stress increases as employees see the values they implicitly live and work by threatened. And vice versa. Values are therefore smarter to deploy than rules! Netflix discovered this much earlier. They follow a very simple rule: Avoid Rules! People over Process! However, a close examination reveals that Netflix only allows rules if something can lead to irreversible damage. Netflix apparently allows a margin of error, so to speak, to learn. Fail fast often is what start-ups and gurus like Gary Vaynerchuk sometimes say. So do we. And rules hold back this learning process.
In his book Doorbreek uw bedrijfscultuur (Break through your company culture), Rudy Snippe talks about the self-referential ability of organizations. They maintain their own system, and rules, and confirmative bias ensures that people are mainly open to signals that confirm them right and do not threaten their already existing perception or views. Managers or employees who say: “this is the way it has to be, because those are the rules, don’t ask me why” or “it doesn’t work that way here” are not wanted by anyone, except your competitor. Well, not even them..
There is evidence that €5 billion of administrative burden is wasted in the healthcare sector in the Netherlands alone. It’s quite bold to state that this ‘can therefore be scrapped’, because rules also provide structure, support accountability and make risks transparent and manageable. And last but not least, the legislator also wants to see all kinds of things complied with, such as requirements for a license, tender, etc.
Do we leave it at that? No, definitely not. What if you had a smart dialogue twice a year and asked your employees which rule they think could be abolished and why? What if you could let employees respond to each other’s ideas, and you would know which ones could potentially be abolished, and more importantly, why? What if you also asked which rule allows them to do their work in a stable and structured way?
One of our clients tackled the ‘rules’ topic by simply asking its employees (nearly 3,000 employees) to name rules that only bother them and the organization and do not benefit the client. The outcome was clear and could be divided into:
1 rules that hinder employees from doing their jobs and unexplainably still exist;
2 rules that are inconvenient, but serve a purpose;
3 rules that need to be looked at more seriously but have the appearance of not being so.
Anything under 1 can be simplified or removed after further analysis. Note the chain effect: ask the question where the rule got its origin. Do we still understand if the rule is outdated and unnecessary? Conduct further dialogue in a small(er) group if necessary.
Anything under 2 is explained in more detail. Apparently, the main thing you need to make clear to employees is that these rules exist and why compliance is necessary. Realize that they apparently didn’t know that. Therefore, go over why they didn’t know that? Why are there rules that are unknown, untrained, and/or untraceable? You can also train important rules smartly with groups of employees via dilemmas. Contact us if this appeals to you.
Finally, anything that falls under 3 should be analysed more closely. You can have deeper dialogues with the group that identified these rules to clarify what to do with them. Again, what is the origin, why don’t we understand why we have these rules?
You get the idea. Clearing clutter and making important rules visible are both necessary. Something you simply can’t pass up. You don’t want to wait for this: you either want to get rid of rules or see them enforced. There is nothing in between, in our opinion. So neither work, nor the customer, nor your employee falls between two stools.
How do we proceed: We can set up a program with your organization or department for the above challenges. You will have the first results with groups of 10 employees up to 10,000s within 2 weeks. You will be amazed to see the results: a quick return on investment. This will not only be reflected in money and agility, but also in higher employee satisfaction and commitment. The best companies in the world, have a foundation based on the commitment of employees. At the time, not the CEO of IKEA, but an employee came up with the idea of removing the legs of the LÖVET table, in order to develop “flat packaging” as a smart, customer-friendly logistics solution. Don’t underestimate employees, they have ideas, they want to improve their work and they know which rules can be thrown out and which ones are badly needed better than anyone.
Fancy a challenge? Contact us today to get started tomorrow.