My view of management is that you don’t control behavior with rules, but instead shape behavior through values. You do need some rules, but the principle is to minimize the number of rules you have, and not to default to “making a new rule” when you encounter a problem.
(I distinguish rules and principles, by the way — principles are enduring and guiding; rules are particular applications which are context-specific. And, I am a big fan of standards that capture the essence of what really makes certain things tick, although the standards need to be open to revision.)
Anyway, why minimize rules? There are lots of reasons, and it would be interesting at some point to go into detail. At this point, here are two reasons:
- A reliance on rules tends to dehumanize, treating employees as potential problems to be controlled rather than adults who are responsible stewards. A default, “what can it hurt” approach to rule-making seems to assume that the manager always knows best, which is not the reality in our knowledge economy. By definition, a knowledge worker is one who knows more about his job than his manager.
- The tools that eliminate risk often eliminate action.
This approach also syncs with how I think society best functions. “He who governs least, governs best.” That is true in government and management.
So often, the multiplication of laws (in government) and rules (in management) is more about enhancing the power of the ruler (or manager) than serving the person.