Issue #9 - Principles > Policies

Learn why policies limit while principles empower and why we tend to prefer control yet fail to recognize the consequences. Plus resources to help you empower your people.

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What's In This Issue 📰 📦

A brief look into what you'll be reading

  • The dangers of divisiveness within politics (and business)

  • The difference between policies and principles and which one scales better

  • 3 books filled with contrarian insights that you should add to your reading list


What's On My Mind 🧠 🤔

I’ve been thinking…

While I was noodling on what this issue should be about, I was hit with the concept of "principles over policies" from multiple angles. And while I typically tie everything back to business — contrarian insights and strategies — last week happened. 😭

Disclaimer: This is not an invitation to debate issues here though. 🤐 If you don’t like how I think, I respect that and encourage you to unsubscribe. You’re always welcome back.

I do my very best to avoid politics. Especially given that when I was growing up we could have conversations, disagree, and still respect the other person afterward. Now I feel pressure to subscribe to one party or the other. Somehow we’ve allowed politics to become zero-sum (for me or against me, no in-between). And those that know me or have read anything I've written know I think the zero-sum mentality is complete garbage. It’s a massive failure to appreciate and encourage compromise so everyone comes out better off.

I feel politically homeless and have for several years. I've never been one to subscribe to "one true way" when it comes to politics; especially given the limitations implied by a two-party system that has become so bitterly polarized in the policies supported, at the expense of being consistently principled. We’ve become extremely Machiavellian with the ends supposedly justifying the means. 🤮

We've lost our way and won't find it again until we return to a principled approach to helping everyone prosper. Are we collectively ready to do that? I'm optimistic yet skeptical. Juxtaposed I suppose. Why be divided?

Enough of my rant, you're here for contrarian insights so let's get going already.

Here’s a great article by Joe Procopio, a multi-exit and multi-failure entrepreneur that I highly respect. In How Entrepreneurs Take The Loss — When Startup Leaders Get Forced Out he discusses how to deal with politics in startups while retaining your integrity and sticking to your principles. This one felt timely and super relevant. 💯


The Crux of the Issue 🥓 🤤

The contrarian insight of the week…

Principles will take you further than policies ever will. They empower and encourage responsibility, accountability, autonomy, as opposed to an affinity to rule-following.

We’ve all worked for companies with massive handbooks full of policies. Well-intentioned as they may be, they are deeply flawed. This is what I would coin as “bottoms-up” thinking. Now the handbook didn’t start out looking like an old-school phonebook, but as the company grew and undesirable behaviors were encountered, more and more policies were written to prevent unpleasant results. 😵

How many of you can relate to this? I started out working in a big company and this mentality was rampant. My wife’s experiences were similar. If you dodged this bullet, kudos to you, but I suspect you’re rarer than you realize.

In No Rules Rules (linked below), Reed Hastings shared how his first company, Pure Software, fell victim to death by a million policies. In striving to produce consistent results, policies exposed an ugly, unintended side-effect. The most ambitious and creative people on his team jumped ship over time due to the constraints imposed upon them. In short, they had felt stifled. Even worse, the people that remained were rule followers that failed to innovate. That’s a recipe for death. ☠️

Taking those lessons with him, Reed built Netflix on the contrarian premise that policies are more harmful than helpful. Instead, he empowered people using principles and stories to help guide behaviors. He focused on “top-down” thinking.

These practices have created a company culture that focuses on empowering employees to innovate and take accountability, rather than conditioning them to simply follow protocol.

At another company experiencing rapid growth at the same time Netflix was disrupting its space, Zappos was questioning its ‘playground rules’ as well. In an effort to wow its customers with superior service, it empowered its employees to act on the best interest of customers and the company. No scripts for its customer service reps to follow meant they’d use their best judgment and a healthy dose of empathy to do what they believed was right for each individual customer.

In Delivering Happiness, Tony Hsieh shares many examples of how this contrarian strategy has worked over the years, with stories of reps going above and beyond to win customers for life. Prizing long-term benefits over short-term impacts.

Okay, fine. This is all well and good, but how do I put this into action for my business? Fair enough. My frustrating answer is your plan of action will rely upon your specific business, your team, and what you want to achieve long-term. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy that will produce stellar results. But as long as you think ‘less control and more context’, you’ll make big strides.

Here are some 4 action steps to get you started:

  1. Educate yourself using the success of others by reading as often as you can. I could simply summarize what I’ve done personally or provide a summary of the books I recommend below, but context is key and I’d be obscuring much of it.

  2. Understand the type of team you want. Do you behave like a professional sports team with room only for top talent? Or do you view your team as a family with loyalty and progression as top priorities? The principles you draft will hinge upon the team you are building. Netflix describes itself as a pro team while Zappos is more family-oriented—both are stellar companies with vastly different principles.

  3. Review your policies (both written and verbal) and look for the context that inspired them in the first place. How could you return to the starting line, describe the intent as a concise principle, and leverage a few stories to build context? This is a fundamental step towards empowering your team.

  4. Rewire how you interact with your team to call out the positive behavior. The modern psychology of positive reinforcement goes further than discipline. I know that I am more apt to strive for encouragement than I am likely to avoid a reprimand. My kids are wired the same way.

Have a story that would help others? Share it in the comments. 👇

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Useful Things For You 📚 📺

This week I’m recommending 3 books that all contain an overarching theme of empathy, accountability, and responsibility. They seek to empower people.

1) No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention

“Lead with context, not control,” and coach your employees using such guidelines as, “Don’t seek to please your boss.”

This book was written by Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, and Erin Meyer, a world-renowned culture expert, to share what makes Netflix different. It’s filled with contrarian strategies and tactics that empower employees like never before.

2) Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

“The problem when someone feels burned out, bored, unchallenged, or stifled by their work is not the job itself but rather the environment and playground rules given to them to do the job at hand.”

This book was written by Tony Hsieh, former CEO of Zappos, to share the special sauce that his team discovered while building Zappos into a multi-billion-dollar juggernaut. This is a book filled with contrarian wisdom about how to wow customers with a focus on being virtuous and ambitious long-term goals.

3) How to Win Friends and Influence People

"Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to."

This book was written by Dale Carnegie, an American writer and lecturer, and the developer of courses in self-improvement, salesmanship, corporate training, public speaking, and interpersonal skills. His writing style and love of analogies and euphemisms made for a compelling read. I wish I had read this book in my 20s.


1️⃣ Oh, One More Thing…

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Better Outcomes is written and curated by Casey Winans. Follow me on Twitter, Medium, and LinkedIn. Want to work with me? Send me an e-mail. Or maybe just buy me a beer?