As the world is spinning faster and faster and as the rate of change is increasing at the same time, it gets harder to have an overview of all the changes and manage them, and act on them.  So you need a better approach to execution. 

So what will help you the most?  Procedures, or principles?



The answer you find here: the best thing you can do is getting rid of procedures as much as you can.  

And why is that? If you look at the early stages of an organisation, then there is organised chaos.  

In startups, everybody knows what their focus and responsibility is, without any procedures. They are focused on going to the market fast, find those first customers, gain traction and scale. 

In other words, startups look how to get results fast.  In such an environment, procedures are lethal. And what we invariably see in all organisations is that, the longer they exist, the more procedures creep into the organisations.  

And this slows things down.

This is an interesting paradox, in a world where speed matters, most companies choose the road of slowness.  That doesn’t make sense to me (click to retweet).  But there is a different way.  

Procedures work from the point-of-view that we can control everything, and set everything in stone then never to touch again.  However, as we have seen, in our fast moving world, we cannot control everything.  

How can we remain agile and actually remain procedure free?  One solution is to work from a limited set of guiding principles rather than infinite set of processes.  

It always stuck me as odd that I managed to sell millions in a procedure free environment, but then struggled to get a 100,000 euro deal in, because the procedure required that field ‘xyz’ on the order form was filled in. 

 As a matter of fact, I signed my first multimillion dollar deal back in Russia on a linen napkin after an obviously quite successful dinner. 

I wonder how the procedure cogs in organisations would have reacted then… Would they have tried to stop the deal since it didn’t fit the ERP or CRM format?  Similarly, a few years ago I couldn’t open a rec because the hcm system was down for maintenance and we weren’t ‘allowed’ to directly post jobs online because it wasn’t part of the procedure.  

Procedures tend to omit the results, and people defending those procedures tend to look at the procedure as a goal, not as a means.  Yes, I do get that products need to be entered correctly, however the foundation of any successful business is simplicity.  If it means that you spend 1 hour entering 1 order in certain cases then you can’t claim you have a simple business.  If you make your procedures so tight then of course, ‘compliance’ will kill you.

If it means that you waste a lot of money with data entry, adding resources that can do that data entry (or do you use your salespeople for data entry rather than letting them have more customer facing time)?

Principles have many advantages: principles guide behaviour and give room to interpretation on how to execute.  In traditional and average organisations, top down management enforces procedures, and when something unforeseen happens, something that deviates from the norm, then it is even possible that an organisation comes to a standstill, simply because there is no procedure for it. 

In the case of principles, people understand the principles and now how to act based on the desired outcome.  And when we combine principles with adaptive performance, something we wrote about here, then we can quickly execute.  

In a previous role, my colleagues often told me: “you and your fucking principles,” because we made some pretty audacious decisions based on them, but the results were there.  

It is also easier to adapt principles to new realities of society (and thus the impact this has on the organisation).  Naturally, we have to make sure that the principles are well balanced and are combined with the goals and purpose of the organisation in mind, so that the outcome (or response) to the event is specific enough. 

This means that the goals and purpose of the organisation should be clear, and that principles are aimed to fulfil the goals and purpose.

A great example of an organisation guided by principles is Beerwulf, which is an online platform for craft beers and a daughter of Heineken. 

I interviewed them for my book JUMP where you can find their case back in more detail.  They specifically remain in startup mode, and want to remain as such far from procedures.  

Sebastiaan Berkvens, one of the founders of Beerwulf admits that “the moment I tried to implement a procedure, Böhm [the Beerwulf CEO] pushed back, telling that I should explain to everybody else why Beerwulf should follow the procedure I want to implement, and if it didn’t work then that there was a chance that perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea after all”.  

Dutch candor and no-nonsense.  I love it!

In the next blog, we’ll talk more about the ideal environment to make this successful!  As always, keep jumping the waves of disruption!