When I was serving a mission in Germany I looked forward to each Monday because that was our preparation day. We did our laundry and grocery shopping in the morning and wrote letters to family in the afternoon.
But what I looked forward to the most was being able to play basketball, go jogging or play indoor soccer. Given the many miles I rode my bike around town, I was in some of the best shape of my life and I couldn’t wait to shed my Mr. Mac suit for shorts and Nikes.
About six months into service, our mission president banned all forms of physical exercise because a fellow missionary was injured while jogging. We were only allowed to participate in activities that we could perform while wearing a suit and tie. That sounds as absurd today as it did twenty years ago.
With nearly 200 missionaries serving in our mission, the occasional injury is bound to happen. I couldn’t understand why the fluke injury of one person should result in a ban for the remaining 199 of us.
I’ve experienced similar misguided blanket polices since then. I once worked for a manager who, instead of dealing with the rare employee mistake, would create pages and pages of policy foolishly assuming he was repairing the problem. Each time a new policy was added to the employee manual, everyone at the company received an email that began with “TEAM” in large red fonts. We quickly learned to ignore these emails because they were written in such condescending language.
I’m reminded of a quote from Mark Twain: “There were more exceptions to the rule than instances of it.”
Attempting to alter behavior by creating new policies is the work of a lazy manager. It’s not difficult to sit at a desk and craft a policy that makes you feel important. You create while others follow.
But it’s never that simple because for each new policy or procedure you create you’re quietly telling your employees, “I trust you less than I did before.” Not to mention, you anger the larger group of employees who followed the guidelines to begin with.
Instead of creating a new policy, ask yourself if the problem is best solved by discussing it directly with the employee who brought it to your attention. I’ve often found through those conversations that my understanding of a rule or guideline did not mesh with that of the employee. That’s not always a bad thing because it gives me an opportunity to listen and share my views.
If you absolutely must create or change a policy, try delivering the changes in person instead of email. It’s more difficult because it opens up a two-way dialog where others can provide input and ask questions. But it’s more personable and effective. Plus, if you’ve reached the point of your career where you’re managing by email, maybe it’s time to ride off into the sunset on your horse.