I Did Not Think The Policy Was a Commitment

Have you experienced a team member or manager that violated a policy? And when you confronted them they said, “I did not think a policy was a commitment.” I encountered this question in the new book by Fred Kofman Ph.D. The Meaning Revolution.

In Fred’s story the executive shared that when you signed on to the company you agreed to abide by the policies and procedures. What is an agreement if not a commitment?

I have worked with many organizations where the philosophy is “ask for forgiveness, not permission.” The question we all need to ask is, “what are the policies for”? How strict are they? Are they relevant? This is hard for me, I like rules. I like having clean bright lines. Yet when the lines are too firm, organizations can experience unintended consequences.

Consider Comcast. In 2014 there was recording released of an agent giving a customer an incredibly hard time as they tried to cancel their service. It went viral. While Comcast initially blamed a rouge agent, a closer look revealed that the company policy

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was to have “retention” specialists. Their job was to keep the customer at all costs. Comcast’s COO said, “our employee did a lot of what we train them to do.” In USA today Comcast is listed as one of the top twenty most hated companies in America because of behavior like this. (I have to add that my experience with Comcast over the last few years has been delightful.)

What is the balance? I am not sure I have “THE” answer. But some thoughts are:

Be clear on what your values are. Can you let the organizational values drive the decisions? Nordstrom’s for years operated with a very skinny employee manual “The customer is always right.” They were legendary in their service. In college I heard the story of one manager taking back a set of tires when they did not sell tires.

The flip side of that was my time in the financial services industry. We had very strict SOP’s -Standard Operating Procedures – that covered all sorts of behavior and expectations. From how to audit a telephone representatives file to what color of shoe to wear with what color of suit. The shoes and suit thing might have been too much? But the company beat the competition consistently and was a major force in the industry. There was a discipline, an Esprit D Corps, that we all shared the same effort, language, and culture.

Culture is a part of the answer. It is a set of beliefs about how we will behave, communicate, and work in our organization. Joe Tye calls it the Invisible Architecture. Others call it the Operating Systems. Kind of like the programs that allows all of the other programs to run on the computer.

My experience is that when you have a culture that is driven throughout the organization. Where it is not just words on a board, but it is reinforced and demanded of people, you really do not need such tightly defined policies. People will live up (or down) to the standards of the mutual culture because of their intrinsic need to belong.

Today so many people are speaking about culture and cultural fit. It is not really a big secret. It is being clear on your values, the behaviors you tolerate, and then demanding it from your organization. From top to bottom, from strong performers to weak performers, everyone.

John works with Leaders and their organizations to improve performance through facilitation, consulting and coaching. With programs in behavioral blind spots, influence, team accountability and high performance teams. Contact john@johngies.com for more information.

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