Making rules doesn’t encourage people to follow them. In many cases, setting policies undermines our ability to make decisions and robs us of our ability to think critically. From inc.com:
What we now know from over a hundred years of studying organizations, is that rules follow the law of diminishing returns: The more rules you impose, the less likely it is that anyone will follow them.
Human beings have the inherent desire to be free. Yet we still see the imposition of decrees as the right way to run an organization. As an MLB player, I experienced this first hand. In my days with the Detroit Tigers, we received a list of rules in our locker. Every spring. By day’s end, I had deposited each one of those printouts in the trash. Moreover, I’m confident not a single player I shared clubhouse space with took those sheets home and posted it on their fridge. I was 22 years old and far from a child. I resented that I was being treated like I was incapable of navigating this very unique society.
The reason for this behavior isn’t that complicated. Rules—especially dumb rules—imply that we are children, that we don’t know how to behave. Adults, not unreasonably, resent this. And so, to demonstrate our autonomy, to prove that we are not children, we have to break some of the rules. That’s why factories with a plethora of regulations find graffiti in the toilet and trash in the break room. The independence of individuals must break through.
This isn’t about separating dumb from smart rules, rather the act of imposing them. By definition, they’re a set of explicit or understood regulations or principles governing conduct within a particular activity or sphere. I vehemently believed that management was not better at developing this governing conduct for us, and many of my fellow alpha males felt similarly. A strong moral and ethical compass and commitment to sharing from our leadership will point us in the appropriate direction, and I believed that even as a young man. I remain unconvinced that a set of rules will serve our mission to arm men with the necessary tools to navigate through a baseball clubhouse, airplane and hotels. This all boils down to the rebellious nature of a grownup being treated like a child. Even children don’t respond well to rules.
I am a father of two strong young men, aged 13 and 15. The following passage landed powerfully with me. From jezebel.com:
I’ve seen it work, personally. Among the many types of teens I knew growing up—nerds, stoners, fuck-ups, jocks, you name it—I only know one who never really lied to her mom. She was also the only teenager I knew that had no rules. No actual rules. Seriously. None. Not so much as a curfew.
But, she had something else in place of that. First, she had parents who were some of the most engaged, involved, present parents I’ve ever witnessed, including on sitcoms; second, she had endless conversations with them about what it means to make good choices. So I often heard her discussing why she would make it home by midnight. Not because her parents said so, but because she had somewhere to be in the morning, things to do, sleep to get, school to attend. To her, it just wasn’t smart to stay out so late and be tired.
I remember thinking it would be incredible to have that kind of trust from your parents, and it’s still one of the only examples I’ve ever seen of that kind of parenting style.
As leaders, we have a choice regarding our “parenting style.” We can write down a set of rules and impose predetermined consequences, or we can share our philosophies about our culture continuously. We follow with conversations about ethics and what we value as strong teammate behavior. This is clearly the path which requires more intellectual and emotional bandwidth. The clear and consistent sharing of organizational vision will be more effective in inspiring the incubation of critical thinking than a jailhouse atmosphere with a stifling set of rules.
If you’re doing an excellent job articulating values and priorities in your business, most rules are superfluous
Don’t be afraid to share this alternative view with your organization. Let freedom ring.