People or procedures

If you attempt to control people through all kinds of administrative procedures, employees will probably develop the feeling that you mistrust them. If you mistrust people, they will definitely not deliver more than the required minimum. This means that you will never get more than you demand of people, as described in so-called SMART goals. These goals will at best get you what fits within the vision of the people writing the procedures and regulations. Chances are that you will not even get that.

Some managers may then feel the urge to raise the bar, by setting higher goals, and insisting on even tighter regulations. This easily turns into a spiraling process, ending in mistrust and lack of productivity.

But sometimes something else happens. A colleague of mine, an external consultant, recently had to book a flight to deliver a training and development programme for a client. By accident, she discovered that the client’s internal travel agency could access much cheaper seats than she could find. However, according to regulations, she, being an external consultant, had to book herself and then declare her costs.

So, she picked up the phone and explained the story to the client’s account manager. The account manager in turn called someone she trusted who knew someone in the internal travel department. To cut a long story short: when 4 people that trusted each other took action and made 3 phone calls to bypass some regulations, it took only 15 minutes to save the company a relatively large sum of money.

This would not have happened, if these people had blindly followed procedure, or if the necessary trust between them had lacked. Luckily all people involved had begun to trust each other a long time before this incident, which is what happens when you engage in face-to-face contact and telephone conversations.

The question is, were the people involved right in bypassing the existing procedures? Do you set and follow tight regulations? Or do you engage in dialogue and build trust in order to get even better results?
Jac Rongen, Nico Swaan & Geof Cox