Establishing Policies, Procedures, and Culture Within Intimate Proximity

An organization’s culture is like an individual’s character: it’s what they do when they think no one is watching. Your culture is how your organization defines its beliefs and behaviors. As an Intimate Proximity leader, you’ll strive to have people follow you because they want to, not because they have to. To that end, you will want to move cautiously when seeking a balance between initiative-restricting policies, waste-reducing procedures, and people-enabling culture.

First, understand your own leanings: are you naturally a process-oriented or people-oriented leader? Both have their merits and each has its place in an organization. The process-oriented leader can be very personable while people-oriented leaders can use processes to provide structure. Discovering how you would naturally lead can help you understand that not every leader shares your inclinations and not every follower will inherently fall in line. You will need to stay flexible to meet each of their needs.

Create Only the Policies You Must

Many rookie leaders make a mistake in thinking that if you establish enough of the right policies, you can, in effect, legislate your way to a positive culture. They’ll set up plenty of rules on what kind of shirts you can wear, penalties for tardiness which escalate by the severity of the infraction, and how X number of errors will result in Y punishments. The feeling here is that if we put enough pain around defects, that will eliminate them from the organization. This never works.

Do not take the rookie leader’s way out by establishing a policy for everything. If we had enough policies to cover all contingencies, what need would we have for leaders? Should you worry about establishing precedent by leading one person one way and then another differently? Some would suggest you should establish a policy to ensure you’re consistent. Bah! Treat everyone the same by treating them differently, but fairly. Applying the same blunt policy to all would rob each of their right to be led according to their circumstances and needs.

Now, that being said, some reasonable policies are required to ensure everyone is working off the same page. If you want the first shift to start at 6:30, put it into the policy. Exceptions can be granted but only in relation to the policy. This will establish the reference point and keep your team from constantly wondering what is expected.

Never create a policy you don’t intend on enforcing. If it’s not important enough for you to correct someone when they violate the policy, it wasn’t important enough to be a policy. You absolutely must provide immediate feedback on any infraction. If you let one slide, the next one will be easier. Don’t let any of them slide.

You will inevitably have to confront an employee who has violated a policy or rule. An effective and friendly technique that I’ve learned is to make the rules a third party to the discussion. You and the employee can stand shoulder to shoulder and together review the rules. Don’t have the rules be between you. It keeps the enforcement less personal so that you can maintain your relationship with the employee and it doesn’t devolve into a “you versus me” conflict. One exception for me comes on the topics of harassment or integrity. I consider these both to be personal issues.

If You Need It Done Twice the Same Way, Make a Procedure

Procedures provide a common language for the sake of consistency. They help eliminate the waste that the Japanese refer to as Muri (unreasonableness) in the Toyota Production System. By standardizing work through procedures we can continue to do “routine things routinely” (thanks to Bob Merkl for coining this phrase). This will allow us time and energy to handle the inevitable crises.

Procedures you put in place should be self-sustaining. They shouldn’t require your continual prodding to make them work. If you find yourself thinking that “people need retraining” or that you “need to hold people accountable” because the procedures aren’t being followed, perhaps your procedures are out of the natural flow of creating value.

Spend time to understand where you are actually creating value and form your process around that. In a manufacturing cell at one company, we discovered that a certain card would get lost or forgotten about ten percent of the time. This card was meant to trigger replenishment of the parts used to manufacture the product. If the card wasn’t turned in, the parts would get used up and not be re-filled. However, we also noticed that the technicians never forgot to use optics when building their product. Why did they remember one thing 100% of the time and the other only 90? It was because there was no other way to build the product than by using the optics. However, they could still build their product (create real value) with or without the card. We set out to piggy-back the replenishment function onto the usage of the part to take advantage of the natural flow of value creation.

If you discover that your team drifts away from established work standards when you’re not around, you’ve failed to make self-sustaining procedures. “Re-training” and “Accountability” will be weak crutches keeping you from seeing the real problems.

Culture Is Your Flywheel: Which Way Does Yours Spin?

The Intimate Proximity leader knows that even though you might be able to make people do what you want when you’re in the same room, what you really want is for your people to do what you want when you’re not around. What your team does when they don’t think they’re being watched is their culture.

A flywheel is a large, heavy wheel on an engine which helps the system maintain momentum. It takes quite a bit of energy to get this massive flywheel spinning. But when it does get going, the inertia can continue to keep the flywheel spinning even during periods when you can’t apply energy to it. Your culture is your flywheel which will drive your team even when you’re not directly leading it.

One of the features of any culture is its common understanding of language. You will want to get everyone in your organization on the same page by using the same terms and definitions.

As a light-hearted and exaggerated example, let me describe how the four armed services might understand the order to “secure a building”. The Army would set up a perimeter around the building with observation posts all around to monitor and control access. The Marines would assault through the front door capturing everyone inside. No one could enter or leave. The Navy would turn off all the lights, lock the doors, and go home. The Air Force would take out a five-year lease with an option to buy.

For a more relevant example, how does your organization use the word Forecast? Is it the quantity for a specific material that is entered into your ERP system? Or, is it the quantity that Sales has provided to predict what they will sell? These are obviously different understandings. If you’ve ever heard someone’s frustrated outcry such as “The forecast is the forecast!”, then you probably have some work to do in shoring up your culture.

You should take time to build a culture where your people are convinced they are the best at what they do. Honor those things which make us different since that is where the most creative and disparate ideas will come from. Whenever you have the opportunity, celebrate successes and anyone’s outstanding achievement. Make it a part of every day and your team will recognize that they are not just there to do their jobs, but are a part of a much larger and successful movement. Their performance will rise to their reputation.

Through the judicious creation of standard-establishing policies, defect-eliminating procedures, and people-celebrating culture, the Intimate Proximity leader can achieve a significant flywheel effect on his or her team. They will develop ideas you never would have considered. They will establish new standards that surpass your own. They will encourage each other to triumphs that none of you would have thought possible.