How Well Do Your Policies Create Desired Outcomes and Trust?

Every organization has policies of some sort. The smaller the organization, the fewer policies you might have. And, the larger the organization, the more policies you might think you need. I keep encountering policies that prevent people from delivering the outcomes the organization wants. Worse, the policies destroy trust.

Why have policies anyway?

  • We often need policies about how and when we spend money. If you don’t manage your cash flow, a lack of cash will kill your business.
  • We often need policies around security: network access, what we can discuss, and with whom.
  • We might need other policies to create desired outcomes: such as, “we have a policy of continuous integration to the main every day.” That CI would allow us to release as a business decision.

However, too often, policies create rigidity, not resilience.

The more we want an agile organization that might be able to bounce forward, the more we need to create an environment of thinking and trust.

Too many policies use the policy to prevent thinking—and therefore policies destroy trust.

SIgnoffs Don’t Encourage Trust

A billion years ago, as a program manager, I needed to get signoffs from all 8 VPs to do something important for the program. (I no longer remember what that was.)

I spent a day walking around the building, getting all the signatures. Relieved, I presented the signed-off document to my VP and then asked this question:

“Why didn’t you trust me to do what’s right?”

He frowned. “I thought I was,” he said.

“Nope,” I said. “I had to get signatures from 8 people who didn’t understand the risks and outcomes, just to get their signatures. I did have good conversations, but I just spent a day doing this.”

As far as I can tell, even using electronic signatures, this kind of process still persists and takes too long. And, as in my case, the signatures didn’t help achieve the necessary outcomes.

We create policies because some event(s) occurred in the past. Those events created problems for someone or many someones. The company then creates policies to prevent those problems.

My company didn’t have to trust me to do a good job—they had a policy.

That’s the problem with many policies: we all pay now for something that occurred in the past. Even if those circumstances no longer occur.

How Well Do Your Policies Achieve Desired Outcomes?

Your policies create your culture. The more blanket policies you have, the less trust you extend to anyone. Instead of achieving your desired outcomes, you might prevent those outcomes.

I had decided what to do for the program—because that was part of my responsibilities. The program teams agreed and helped me frame my work even better.

The signoffs didn’t help me do my job. And, because I needed the signoffs as part of our governance, I wasted a day getting people to sign.

I didn’t achieve my program outcomes that day. I only achieved the policy outcomes. Was that the best use of my time?

Revisit the Need for Your Policies

Your policies create and refine your actual culture.

The more policies you have, the more rigid your organization. The more rigid the organization, the more brittle the relationships inside the organization, never mind outside the organization. The less trust we have.

We do need guidelines and constraints for our work. And, the more business agility we want, the fewer constraints we need.

Ask these questions about your current policies:

  • How much value does this policy add to the products and services we sell?
  • How well does this policy reinforce doing the right thing, or does it focus on prevention the wrong thing?
  • Who creates the policy and who is affected by it? (I often see managers set policies they do not have to live with.)

We are imaginative and trustworthy people. As you consider your policies, ask this question:

What other three ways could I achieve the outcome I want?

I suggest you start with trust. You might even ask, “What do you need to make this happen?” and see the answers.

It’s a lot more difficult to trust people than to make them adhere to policies. In my experience, it’s a lot more rewarding.

(I examined this for organizations in Modern Management Made Easy 2 and 3. Both books are still in tech review in case you don’t like books in progress.)

I recommend you review your policies to see if they do create trust and achieve the outcomes you want.

Published on Java Code Geeks with permission by Johanna Rothman , partner at our JCG program. See the original article here: How Well Do Your Policies Create Desired Outcomes and Trust?

Opinions expressed by Java Code Geeks contributors are their own.

Johanna Rothman

Johanna consults, speaks, and writes about managing product development. She helps managers and leaders do reasonable things that work. You can read more of her writings at
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