Monday, June 15, 2009

6.5 reasons why your company needs a "Bill of Don'ts"

Google is renowned for its "10 Golden Rules", the basic tenets of what it stands for and how it will do things. Not all companies have this. Maybe even worse they have a "Mission Statement" that no one has ever read, but is always referenced in prosaic management emails. What can be of equal meaning to a company's culture is a clear list of what it will not do. Google's 10 rules loosely accomplishes this - if you do something that breaks one of the 10 rules then you know you did a "no no".

Here are 6.5 reasons why you need a "Bill of Don'ts":
  1. Companies need to be more clear about what behaviors and/or actions will not be tolerated.
  2. Google's golden rules are actually more limiting than a list of what can't be done. A list of what you can do implies that if a behavior/action isn't listed therein, then it is not allowable. Witness decades of legal turmoil in the US on the heels of the Bill of Rights. The Founding Fathers originally didn't include these Rights in the Constitution because they were afraid it would be viewed as the limited set of Rights citizens have, instead of the foundational Rights to be expounded upon. Their fears were met, and exceeded.
  3. A listing of what you can/should do is ambiguous and open to interpretation, a listing of what can't be done is explicit and clear. You cannot to A, B and C. There is no wiggle room if you do.
  4. "What not to do" lessons learned are clear, crisp and concise. "Do not do X" is clear. Whereas lessons learned on what worked (while helpful) are not as clear and are prescriptive in a negative reinforcement way. People resent being told how TO do something, but are more likely to respond to being told NOT to do something.
  5. It simplifies "behavioral modification", which is a fancy way of saying fixing employee performance. When you have a concrete list of things not to be done, and someone does one of them, it's very easy to make a case for poor performance. Performance measures are sadly either too specific or vague in most performance systems. When they are vague, neither the performer nor the reviewer really know what needs to be done. When they are too specific you are measuring to the hundredth of a decimal in a sales quote or supply chain target. This is an overarching set of things the organization agrees to not do.
  6. There is a shared sense of a real mission and organizational values, and the customer can understand them. I love Google's rules, but as a customer it's not clear exactly how they apply to me and how Google will treat me. If one of the Don'ts is "We will never give your personal information to anyone without your approval ahead of time" then I know you are serious about keeping my information safe.

6.5. Honor the spirit of the rule, not the letter. You can't take food onto the Metro system in DC because they don't want people to make a mess, etc. But obviously you shouldn't get in trouble for having food in your bag if it remains there. But the letter of the law says it is prohibited. So no groceries on the Metro!
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