Leading people: Don't stifle staff with your rules

Policies are there to help, but unnecessary procedures can make work harder.

It has always been puzzling to me that we employ adults who make important decisions in their own lives, such as who to vote for, where to live, where to send their children to school, whether to stay in the closet, how to manage their finances and so on - and then we get them into work and make them sign a chit for taking a pen out of the stationery cupboard.

This is especially true in larger organisations. It's as if the relationship between organisation size and trust levels in staff is inversely proportional. Once you get to about 50 people, you also get unnecessary rules and regulations that make life harder for staff. Our job as managers is to create an environment in which staff can shine. That means rules need to be designed to help them do a great job.

I worked with a manager who absolutely did not trust her staff. She wouldn't delegate because she thought she could do jobs better, she belittled people who didn't do things right (or who didn't do them her way) and she was constantly checking up on them. People were terrified of taking any initiative or using their own judgement. This resulted in her working longer and harder than anyone else, and she resented her staff for it.

Preventing staff from using their judgement without referring to a manager, over-supervision, doing their jobs for them and not giving them the freedom to decide how to do their jobs themselves all demonstrate a profound lack of trust.

The usual argument is that rules are necessary to protect the organisation from 'naughty' staff. But no matter how stringent your checks, there is always someone who will cheat. You simply can't legislate against those people - so why create a culture of mistrust for everyone? Deal with people who don't play the game fairly on a case-by-case basis.

The purpose of policies, procedures and boundaries is to help people understand the accepted practices and behaviours of the organisation.

Why not ask your staff which of your rules help them to do their jobs well and which don't? Then bin the bad ones.

- Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change and a trustee of MedicAlert.

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