Ask Why When Considering a Policy

“In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current.”  – Thomas Jefferson

I’m going to give everyone who ever made or implemented a policy a break. I’m going to say that every policy-maker had the very best of intentions when they created whatever policy it was that they created.

The policy or in some cases rule, was intended to prevent a current or potential problem. Maybe every policy has prevented a problem but there are a whole lot of policies that fixed one problem and created seven more.

Too often policy-makers consider only the consequences of NOT creating a policy and pay little attention to the consequences of creating one. What’s more, they almost never consider the consequences of the consequences of creating policy upon policy.

Just so we’re clear, I’m a big believer in the need for policies and processes and measurements.  Organizations need to have guidelines and those guidelines should absolutely be followed whenever possible.

When an organization’s policies are based on principles they should be rock solid, they should not flex. If they are really based on principles there can and should be no exceptions to the policy.

When policies are based on opinion, on trends, and on convenience, they should be incredibly flexible. 

Sometimes an organization’s policies will have “been on the books” for so long that no one remembers why the policy was even created. The “need” for that policy may be long gone but the policy persists, blindly enforced by those who have survived the need.

Things change, markets changes, people change, circumstances arise. When “stuff happens” organizations must be nimble enough to adjust their policies on the fly. Employees must be empowered, really truly empowered, to make a snap decision to adjust a policy. That empowerment is even more critical for customer-facing employees. 

Too many well intended policies have the effect of building walls between a business and their customers. Some well intended policies even make it harder for customers to do business with a company. The company’s policy-maker just couldn’t see things from a customer’s viewpoint and as a result, a wall-building policy was developed. 

When a policy is created by someone who will not be directly affected by the policy the odds are overwhelming that the outcome will be less than desirable. 

When a well-meaning employee of that business tells a customer, “unfortunately, our policy says….” you can bet that interaction will end badly for the customer. Organizations that find a way to make their policies work for the business AND the customer are the organizations that thrive.

Policies that separate an organization from their customers will eventually separate the organization from their profits. 

Policies need to be revisited from time to time. Some need to be reaffirmed while others need to go away. Just adding new policies every year is a poor business practice. Here’s an idea: cap the number of policies allowed to exist in your organization. Before anyone is allowed to add a new one, find one that no longer applies and send it to the trash heap of bad business bureaucracy. 

Remember, the more policies you have in place the more paralyzing your environment becomes for your people who have, or had, a bias for action. Never allow a policy to be implemented without asking WHY the policy is needed. After you’ve asked why, ask why again. If there is no absolute need for the policy then there is no need for the policy at all. Policies are great but like everything else in life and business, moderation is a key to success. 

Life in the Overlap

I have written before about the importance of knowing what’s truly important. The most successful people know that they control very few things that really matter. Most people spend entirely too much time on seemingly urgent “stuff” at the expense of investing their time on things truly important. 

The other major waste of time we experience is worrying about things that matter but that we have little or no control over. While we are worrying about things we cannot control we are not focused on the things that matter that we can control.

I could write thousands of words on this subject but this week a colleague of mine named Billy sent me the drawing that accompanies this post. It “shows” what I mean better than I could ever say it. (I guess that’s where the whole “a picture is worth a thousand words saying comes from)

A life well-lived is a life lived in the “overlap.” The overlap is where the things that matter coincide with the things that we can control. While I’m certain my colleague drew this picture rather quickly I’d still bet it’s almost perfectly to scale. There really isn’t much overlap to live in. 

Maybe that’s why we find it so hard to do. 

Living in the overlap requires discipline, awareness, and as the picture shows, FOCUS. As for me, I’m pretty good at not worrying about things that don’t matter and that I have no control over. But I’m constantly straying into the things that matter territory that I can’t control. That happens at the expense of my controllable things that matter.

It’s a very human thing to do. It’s also a very unproductive thing to do. 

I’ve thought about this drawing a lot this week and it’s amazing how the overlap aligns with my core values. I have a very few core values and I’ve been reminded this week that leaving the overlap also means I’m likely living outside my core values. My deeply held core values. 

If I stay in the overlap my core values will always be nearby.

I have it easy compared to many people; my core values have been developed through years of introspection. I know what matters to me. Most people have yet to fully understand their core values and I’m guessing that makes living in the overlap that much harder. 

Pay no attention to those things that don’t matter and less attention to things that do matter but that you can’t control. Care about those controllable things that matter and if you can, help the people who do have some control there. But YOUR focus must be on the overlap! 

I highly, highly, highly recommend that you begin to look at what is in your own overlap. What truly matters to you? What can you truly control? What are you willing to let go of so you can hold something even more important to you closer than ever before? You will likely be very surprised at just how small your overlap really is. You will also be shocked at how much time you spend on things outside of your overlap. 

If you’re completely honest with yourself you’ll discover that you control far less than you thought you did. That is not a sign of weakness, that is a sign that you are human.

My overlap is very, very small and yours probably is as well. But the days I stay within my overlap are special days. I accomplish more and what I accomplish actually can make a difference. 

I am not unique in this, days in your overlap will be special days for you too. You must know where your overlap is in order to live there. Find it, focus on it, live there and grow there. 

Most of all, enjoy the very special days you create there!