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“Principles are the simplicity on the far side of complexity.” Stephen R Covey

Are your working practices dictated in a seemingly endless collection of Codes of Practice, Memoranda of Understanding, Process Documents and Manuals of Guidance? Unless you are the employer rather than the employee, or you work alone, I’d gamble that they are.

I would also expect that many of those procedural guidelines are based on best practices, born of years of experience and the making and discovery of errors. They are created out of a desire to do and be better, or to prevent ‘worse’.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency among managers to look upon these documents as The Holy Bible, compliance with which is expected and deviation from which must be punished.

And the funny thing is that they were created to replace the earlier practices that had equally been the Bible until found to be wrong or incomplete. In other words, for some, the fact that errors can be made in all manner of ways and circumstances, including compliance with current practice, does not stop them absolutely insisting on compliance.

Practices change with discovery, experience and greater learning. Remember that, boss.

On the other hand, and looking at Covey’s quote (above), Principles never change. The purpose behind a Manual of Guidance, which is usually clearly stated on page 1, gets lost in the millions of procedural absolutes that follow. Which is stupid.

Clayton Christensen describes how someone goes to a shop to buy a ½” drill bit. The sales staff discuss whether the client wants a steel one, tungsten tipped, twist-bit or step-bit, brad-point or spade, Forstner or Auger, or Installer.

The client says, “I want to make a ½-inch hole.”

That’s the difference between a practice document, and the ‘job to be done’ stated on Page 1. That’s the simplicity on the far side of complexity – the purpose of the work.

When you know what the job is, the Manual contains guidance and practices that will help get that job done. But life and learning may just provide you with some new information that might make the job get done quicker and better.

And, ironically, it also helps to create the next ‘Holy Bible’……..

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