People not Policies or Procedures

A while back, in doing some reading for a prior blog, I came across Mary Parker Follett, the early 20th-century management pioneer, called the “Mother of Modern Management.” I had never heard of her, but realized I follow many of her teachings. She defined management as “the art of getting things done through people.” Instead of emphasizing industrial and mechanical components, common at that time, she advocated for what she saw as far more important – the human element. She regarded people as the most valuable commodity present within any business or organization.

John Gruden, the Head Football Coach for the Las Vegas Raiders and long time TV analyst, said that winning football games was not about the X’s and O’s but the Jimmys and the Joes. Bill Walsh’s ‘west coast offense’ was revolutionary, but he had Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Rodger Craig executing it. If we don’t have the right people, then no matter what tactics or procedures are deployed, success will be problematic. These people also do not have to be superstars, consider Navy football or Princeton basketball – their systems are basic and their players will most likely never play professionally, but the type of person they are makes the execution of these fundamental schemes extremely successful.

Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great (mentioned often in my blog posts), notes that, “People are not your most important asset, the right people are.” So yes, people are a valuable commodity but to be excellent, the ‘right people’ need to be on our team. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” is a quote often mis-attributed to Pete Drucker. Drucker was given credit for the quote around 2011, yet the quote was seen on a Ford Motor Company conference room wall in 2005. Culture is all about people and strategy is based on core business activities, management processes.

Procedures and practices are specific activities or actions that can work in one circumstance but not necessarily in another. If we manage by practices and lead by policies, the team no longer must exercise judgment or use wisdom – all of that is provided for them in the form of rules and regulations. When a team does exercise its own wisdom, outside the prescribed guidelines, they are likely to get reprimanded. Empowering people to act based on principles and judgement provides more expertise, creativity, and shared responsibility at all levels of the organization. These people are ‘bought in’ and will go beyond the bottom-line needs. Ninety-five out of 100 employees will do the right thing and strive for a high-performance workplace. Yet organizations spend time and money writing and enforcing HR policies to deal with the 5%.

I mentioned in a prior blog that Joe Moglia, the successful businessman (CEO of Ameritrade) turned Head Football Coach (Coastal Carolina) as well as my first College Football Coach, does not have team policies.  Instead he has just one standard, ‘Be A Man’ – his student-athletes are expected to “stand on their own two feet, take responsibility for their actions, always treat others with dignity and respect, and recognize they will live with the consequences of their actions.”

Governments pass laws and regulations all the time – US Congress passed more than 63,000 bills over the last ten years – yet these ‘fixes’ to systemic problems often fall short. Rules don’t change hearts. Most drivers exceed the speed limit as much, or as often, as they think they can without getting caught. People are society’s most important element to seek change. I work for a Canadian based company and have found their approach to handling the coronavirus situation to be inspiring. Canada is doing a much better job at mitigating the spread of the disease because everyone is listening and doing their part. They take it to heart and do the right thing as a symbol of national pride. In the US, the policies are not working because our nation’s people – its most valuable commodity – are not executing basic tactics together.

CS Lewis in his book, Mere Christianity, notes: “If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilization, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual. But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of a state or a civilization, compared with his, is only a moment.”

Nations are made of people. A nation does not have the ability to make God its bedrock. This is something its citizens must adopt. To be a people God can bless, we must be people who seek to bless each other. The saying “God Bless the United States” is a hollow statement, when as a nation we do not love our neighbor. St. Thomas Aquinas has the simplest definition of love, “willing the good of the other.” We must each do individually what we hope to do collectively.

In Chapter 8 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he stresses that as Christians we should defer to the wishes of others. Paul introduces the theme of contributing by individual action to the welfare and growth of the community. He urges us to emphasize the importance of community rather than an individualistic view of our Christian freedom. Decisions we consider pertinent only to our private relationship with God have, in fact, social consequences.

Then again in Paul’s letter to the Galatians 5:13-14, “For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Paul is quoting, not Matthew 22:39 where this scripture is most often cited, but from the Old Testament in Leviticus 19:18. As Christians, we should use our freedom to serve and fulfill the law by love of neighbor.

The key component of Jesus’ ministry was “love”, as opposed to the Pharisees and Scribes fixation on “laws.” Jesus said that if the Pharisees truly knew God and understood what really mattered to Him, they would not overemphasize rules or rituals. Chapter 23 of Matthew’s Gospel is the ‘Denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees.’ This speech reflects an opposition that goes beyond that of Jesus’ ministry by also expressing the conflict between Pharisaic Judaism and the church of Matthew at the time when the gospel was composed. Matthew is warning his fellow Christians to look to their own conduct and attitudes.

We the people, if we are the right people, are society’s most important asset no matter what policies or procedures are used. We must be people who seek to bless each other and treat others with dignity. The whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Let God guide our hearts.

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