If we regulated, what we regulate

In retrospect, it was always difficult to recognize the valid set of rules in large enterprises. In the best case there was a list of officialized guidelines. In the respective list the first guideline was always the explanation of how to make a guideline. In some cultures it is crucial for the declaration that they are only obeyed, if they are integrated into the official list and are accepted in a meeting with a ritual by the concerned people. However, these regulations are only the tip of the iceberg. Besides, there are a vast number of additional conventions. Wouldn’t it be practical to make all rules visible to everybody? By regulating, what we regulate.

Regulations are continuously revised and simplified. But somehow people forget to abolish the outdated regulations. As a consequence the bureaucracy explodes. Autonomous actions have not enough elbow space, since a violation of existing rules leads quickly to contract termination. How could the regulations of an enterprise become more effective?

  • Clear definition of the rules
    Actually all involved people should have access to all relevant regulations, which they have to follow. That begins with laws, which have the strongest legally binding character. In large companies, which act globally, it is important it to clarify, which laws are valid in which country. Beyond that, the law with the ultimate binding nature has to be defined. The official company guidelines are the next level of bindingness – even if some people believe that they could override the laws. It should be clarified that the laws stand above everything. Anything else is illegal. The next stage is formed by the work instructions, which are specified by the individual areas following their strategy. They must fit to the superordinate ones. However this is rarely checked due to the absence of an overview. The simplest regulations are the algorithms, which are part in IT-programs and operational sequences. The longer they exist, the fewer people know the actual regulations, which are specified by the procedures. In these cases is no more transparency. At the end some programs run like a black box, without anybody being able to change anything.
  • A comprehensive register of all rules
    Today only a few rules are attainable in one directory. If you consider the many levels of specifications, it becomes clear that you act in a bureaucratic corset that you do not have under control. For this reason a first step is to describe them as good as possible and to make all relevant laws, guidelines, work instructions and algorithm available for all employees. At least the laws and company guidelines should be reachable at any time. A smart register of the work instructions is the next step. The algorithms you can only control, if the respective programs are switched off. Anything else would be guessing without guarantee of correctness.
  • Accessibility of the rules
    The accessibility of the rules should be no problem via the appropriate company network, the Intranet. It will be more difficult for the particular user to correctly interpret the rules without an appropriate consultation. At the same time you should be aware that rules, which someone does not understand, do not result in the desired effect. As soon as the employees do not begin to give attention to rules you loose. Compliance remains in this case an unfulfillable desire.
  • Consistency of the rules
    The valid rules should be consistent. No guideline should be written that contradicts a law. No work instruction should violate laws or guidelines. No software should operate algorithms, which contradict the entire set of rules. In principle the top management is responsible that all employees comply with the rules. Since the observation of all employees is not possible, in practice it became generally accepted to publish an instruction that asks the subordinated areas to follow the rules. That way managers feel relieved. But the rising number of law cases between enterprises and its top management shows that this is a fallacy. Therefore the companies should increase their efforts concerning the regulation of their rules and to ensure that the valid rules are consistent.
  • The agile way out
    The unsatisfactory effect of a bad leadership results in the attempt of sneaking out of responsibility by proclaiming agile approaches. That way the responsibility for acting is delegated to the employees. The areas have to become more flexible with self-organization. The fatal consequence is thereby overseen. As soon as the employees take over the control and find their way autonomously, the managers become obsolete – at least the middle levels. And thus the agility works smoothly at all; it needs a platform that makes the valid regulations available in a directory (see above).

Bottom line: The bureaucracy is an interconnected system, whose components become over time invisible, since too many rules were and are developed, without ever abolishing some. In order to be able to act really compliant, it is necessary to describe the existing set of rules, to check its meaningfulness and consistency, and, if somehow possible, to reduce them to what is really needed – regulating, what regulates.