Are Your 'Policies & Procedures' Hindering Creativity?
Not long ago I had the occasion to work with an organization which, while seeming to perform well externally, had deep-seeded internal cultural issues. The staff team was fractured, insular and inward-looking. Departments were often in competition with each other, evidenced by staff members undermining each other and, in some cases, working to de-rail the plans and effectiveness of other internal departments. Communication was spotty and there was a palpable haze of distrust and apathy.
In discussions with senior management, there was not a consensus as to the extent of the problem, or for the underlying cause. Some looked to assign blame (mostly to others), while some felt this was simply the way it was and had been for a long time. Past efforts to address this were met with cynicism, ridicule or worse. When a new senior leader was added to the team and brought fresh ideas designed to improve the culture, they were rebuked and, ultimately worn down. They either accepted and adapted, or they left.
While there were many issues associated with this organizational condition, one stood out to me as I began my work there. I asked the person responsible for human resources for some documents, including the policy manual and the performance management/employee evaluation forms. She eagerly complied and then added that I would also want to review their “P&Ps” (policies & procedures). I sure did!
This document was unlike anything I had ever seen. Hundreds of pages of instruction covering what to do, what not to do, and approval processes for just about everything. Some of these struck me as being so “over the top,” I had to ask what prompted them to be included. The answer provided insights as to why they suffered from the organizational malaise that had taken hold.
It seems that whenever there was a misstep or a behavioral problem with one of their employees, a new policy was written to assure that “this will never happen again.” Rather than handling the matter directly with the offending individual, management (actually, lack of management) would write a new policy and add it to the list. The obvious lack of management training and preparation led to this default “solution” to employee challenges and problems.
The result? A comprehensive list of “advance warnings” which served to tell employees in no uncertain terms “we don’t trust you.” This implied lack of trust extended to the abilities, intentions, behaviors, and motivations of every employee. Some find comfort in this arrangement, (mostly those who do not want to make a decision, use their best judgement or put themselves on the line). However, the most creative, energetic, enthusiastic employees who look to maximize opportunities and embrace the inherent risk involved in taking the initiative, view these suffocating P&Ps (many of which have been on the books so long, they no longer apply or even make sense) as an insurmountable, insufferable impediment to progress.
While most organizations need some level of structure and boundaries, taken to extreme, they run the risk of reducing their bright, creative people to anonymous automatons, robotically doing what they are told, even when they know there is a better way. The effect of this on organizational progress and on the ability to attract and retain the best and brightest talent can be devastating.
For more information on ways to measure and improve your organization’s culture, contact me at email@example.com.
Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D., CAE, is the Founder and Principal of Alexander Joseph Associates, a privately held consultancy specializing in executive business advisory services with clients throughout the graphic communications industry.
Joe spent 30 years with NAPL, including 11 years as President and CEO. He is an adjunct professor at NYU teaching graduate courses in Executive Leadership; Financial Management and Analysis; Finance for Marketing Decisions; and Leadership: The C Suite Perspective. He may be reached at Joe@ajstrategy.com. Phone or text: (201) 394-8160.