Most see policies and guidelines as bureaucratic inhibitors and constraints. However, used the right way, those same policies and guidelines free people to do their jobs by directing focus. They key is applying the right degrees of freedom to prompt compliance, contribution or commitment in different situations.


A mandatory, definite course or method of action that all must follow.

e.g. “Respond to all customer inquiries within 24 hours.”



A preferred course or method of action that all should generally follow.

e.g. “Try to get back to all customers within 24 hours.”



A way of thinking about actions.

e.g. “Think customers first and pull in the people you need to answer customer inquiries right the first time as fast you can.”



A basic supporting part or structure upon which to build or act.

e.g. “BRAVE

1. Behaviors to respond to customer’s request

2. Relationships strengthened with customers

3. Attitude of customer first (profits later)

4. Values we will not walk by

5. Environment customer is operating in”



A series of actions that produce something or that lead to a particular result.


1. Listen

2. Probe with laddering questions about cause and effect

3. Assess problem or opportunity

4. Assemble resources

5. Solve problem or leverage opportunity

6. Check back with customer.”

Those are the pieces. Let’s put them together. The way you do that will depend on the culture or micro-culture you’re trying to create and the level of employee engagement you seek. As I’ve said before, organizations get the level of engagement they deserve. How leaders and organizations use policies and guidelines plays a large role in this.


Prompting Compliance

If you need compliance, policies and processes are your most important tools. Be clear on what’s allowed and not allowed and how you want things done. Variations are not your friends. Clarity and discipline are.


Prompting Contribution

If you want people to contribute, you have to give them the enough degrees of freedom to do that. In this case, have a bias to guidelines over policies and a bias to frameworks over processes. Guidelines and frameworks point people in the right direction without the rigidity of policies and processes.


Prompting Commitment

Prompting commitment is about unlocking a passion that’s already there. This is why aligning principles is a primary tool here. The more freedom you give committed people, the more they will surprise you with things that are better than anything you could have imagined.


Combined Prompting Framework

I have, of course, greatly oversimplified this. You’re going to need policies, guidelines, principles, frameworks and processes in all cases. What’s different is how you balance them by situation and by employee.

The art comes in the balance.

Think of policies as your bedrock. Use them sparingly in general so you can give appropriate people more freedom. The compliant will follow them. Contributors will reference them. The committed will live with them until they get in the way.

By definition, guidelines are more flexible. You can have more of them in place, evolving them in step with your organizational evolution. Enforce them more strictly with the compliant. Use them to guide the contributors. And expect the committed to treat them as minimum acceptable standards to jump over or go around.

Principles point the way to the future. The committed will embrace them and help you make them better. Contributors will strive to get there. The compliant won’t care about them.

Frameworks help with thinking. Use them liberally, understanding that the compliant will be interested, but only to figure out what they must do. Contributors will love these as they help them get better at what they do. And the committed will push them to the edge and beyond.

You must have processes in place to get things done. Require the compliant to follow them. Expect the contributors to improve them. And try not to let the committed break them. You may have to give the committed assistance in following processes so they can focus more of their attention on what matters most.

Net, these are neither good nor bad on their own, but valuable tools for you to use appropriately.