Thursday, September 06, 2007

The principle of the the thing

"There is no policy in the handbook forbidding a supervisor from living with someone he or she is supervising," the young supervisor said.

She was right. She was also inadvertently pointing to the flaw of using policies as a management tool.

The supervisor at a community nonprofit faced a housing crisis and she faced who solved her housing problem by moving in with a male staff person whom she supervised.

When the program director discovered her living arrangement, she transferred her to other department so that she would no longer supervise the staff member she was living with. The supervisor objected to the transfer and pointed out she was violating no policy.

That's the inherent weaknesses of running an organization by policies. You can never create enough policies to cover all the crazy things people will do. It would be better to have a few principles, one of them might be, avoid conflicts of interest with anyone that you supervise.

Here’s a quote that expresses what I think about principles and policies:

A principle is just a commonly held guide for thinking, behaving and making decisions. You can manage a process or a machine with regulations, rules, and procedures, but if you want the best chance to capture people’ latent potential, then you start with principles that people “own” and help create.*

Principles can be smart and friendly.

* From “My Unfashionable Legacy” by Ralph Sink, Strategy+Business Autumn 2007. Click on Magazine tab, find the Autumn 2007 issue, and then scroll down and click on the article. You may have to fill out a free registration at the site but the article is worth it.