How to Manage – Structures vs Rules

[ New Distinctions for Entrepreneurs – Part 10 of 12 ]

Even with the greatest leadership, management at some level will need to happen in any business with multiple people involved. If you are inspired by being an organisational leader who creates success through developing great relationships and taps into the intrinsic motivations of people (as opposed to a carrot & stick approach), then you will want to approach management with more nuance.

The first thing to do is to get in touch with the motivation behind your management.

“Why are you managing these people?”

“Because we need X to happen…”

“Why do you need X to happen…”

“Because if not, then we’ll go out of business…”

If asking the ‘why’ question repeatedly leads you to a fear, pain or undesirable situation, then the management approach which emerges from it will be counter-productive to building a strong team and it will undermine your ability to tap into your employee’s deep inner drive to help the company succeed. People will feel the unconscious purpose behind your ‘managing’ – whether you are aware of it or not.

If you discover that the reason you want to manage someone is something undesirable, then the next thing you’ll want to do is ask yourself: “If I don’t want that, what DO I want?”

Once you have connected with a reason to manage that is oriented around your purpose and what you ultimately want to create, it will serve you to think differently about the ‘rules’ that you are applying to people you manage.

Embedded in the meaning of a ‘rule’ is that something must be protected. We create rules for children to protect them from themselves. We create traffic rules to protect us from hurting each other. ‘Follow the rules’ has a tone of authoritarianism to it. Although many people effectively work with set rules, there is also a cost to this approach. That cost is even deeper and more motivated engagement.

The simple alternative to having ‘rules’ is creating ‘structures’. At the end of the day, a rule and a structure may be the same exact thing. You may have a ‘rule’ that people show up for work at 9am. By having that as the rule, those who ‘comply with the rule’ are doing so in response to the rule and that’s the end of it. Nothing productive is created beyond the rule other than people following it, thus protecting the company from people showing up too late.

What instead would be a ‘structure’ of starting work at 8am? Well, on the surface it’s the same thing. But ‘structures’ are devoid of inherent meaning of authoritarianism and protectionism that rules are imbued with. In fact, ‘structures’ are things that exist to uphold things and to bring things into form, so they at least open curiously towards what that may be.

Experience the felt difference in these two statements:

‘We have a rule where you must begin work at 8am.’

‘We have a structure where we begin work at 8am.’

The difference that you feel in reading those IS the difference I’m talking about here.

Following the first, you feel forced, controlled and at best you settle. You give up a little bit of your soul in the process.

Following the second, you feel engaged and curious. You want to know what is meant by ‘structure’. For what? What are we building? How does that help?

Using structures instead of rules when you manage invites conversation around the purpose behind the way you are managing. The dialogue is thus easily oriented around the larger vision and what the organisation is attempting to achieve.

“Why do you have a structure where you begin work at 8am?”

“We find that our people are more productive in the mornings. We find on average we’re actually able to end the day 30 minutes early by starting the day 1 hour earlier. By starting work at 8am, our people work less and get more done. Also, we are committed to being the number one service provider in our industry this year. Every other company in our industry starts work at 9am. We’re starting before, working less and doing a better job than all of them.”

Where are you managing with rules?

How could you transform these rules into structures?

What could you share with your team about the purpose behind these structures that might create more engagement and intrinsic motivation from them?

Also, be open to the possibility that by sharing the purpose behind your structures, your team may help you to evolve a structure even more effective and productive towards the same end.