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Chapter 4 | Doctrine Guidebook

Work with Doctrine

We will look at how doctrine changes your role as a leader, and how to use decision breakdowns to evolve doctrine.

Manage by doctrine

Managing by doctrine is about managing principles more than people. That’s a big shift in your role as a business leader.


Under the old hierarchical model, your job is to manage people and process. You decide on the process, assign roles and delegate authority. You determine what the people who report to you can handle themselves and what they have to ask your permission to do, and when someone exceeds their authority, you decide how to handle it and what penalties to impose.

In the new, more networked style of management, people follow doctrine instead of coming to you to break through gridlock or circumventing you because they disagree with your decisions.

Instead of delegating, you empower the people beneath you to make their own choices based on purpose and principles. Everyone knows what the company’s values and goals are, and doctrine tells them how to make decisions that put those values into practice and lead them toward those goals.

In the past you were the legislature and bureaucracy, making laws and enforcing them. Now you can be a combination of constitutional convention and supreme court, creating and amending doctrine, giving them the autonomy to decide how apply it, and helping them interpret it when they disagree.

When an issue gets escalated to you, your job is not to make a Solomonic decision about who wins or loses, but to clarify the “fork in the road" so people can apply doctrine accordingly.

In other words, instead of telling people what to do, you now lead by giving them the clarity to decide on their own what to do.

Evolve doctrine

Doctrine isn’t etched in stone. It’s meant to evolve.

Effective use of doctrine requires a commitment on all sides to regularly seek and provide constructive feedback to improve doctrine and how it’s being used.

From the start, you need to let people know that developing doctrine is an experimental process, and there will be hits and misses.

If people are slow to use doctrine, it may be because they are slow to trust that they are now empowered to make decisions. Be sure not to get impatient and give them “whiplash” by taking decision authority back from them!

Every decision misstep or delegation failure is an opportunity to create or surface doctrine for the future. It provides valuable information about your culture, your customers, your team, your process. If a decision doesn’t align with the mission or strategy, take a look at the situation. Maybe the person misapplied the doctrine. Or it may indicate that your doctrine needs work.

If you see that people consistently aren’t making the “right” decisions, lean into the missing principles and communicate purpose—rather than reprimanding people and managing the process. Make sure you understand what’s really going on.

  • Are people not clear on what the principles are or what they mean?
  • Do they not have enough context or information to apply them?
  • Are decision principles written for their world and in their language?

Small changes in wording can make a big difference in effectiveness. This is why it’s best to co-create doctrine with the people who are going to use it

It’s important that those who are using doctrine be empowered to decline a delegated task or responsibility if they don’t feel that they have clear and adequate doctrine for success.

Tools for evolving doctrine

In creating doctrine, be careful not to recreate read-only rule books.

Are the tools you’re currently to propagate doctrine causing rigidity? Where could you use collaborative tools to gather comments and feedback on doctrine?

Cloud tools open up a whole new area for feedback and collaboration. For instance, what if you offered a commenting function on the employee handbook?

If you’re concerned about negative feedback, look to IBM for an example. In their “values jam,” IBM allowed comments on evolving values. Employees’ first comments were critical venting, then they became productive.

“Why?” questions are a powerful way to prompt meaningful feedback.

Example: Google

Compare what Google’s Nine Principles looked like in 2008 to the revised version created in 2013.

As you can see, “Default to open processes” grew out of “Share whatever you can,” and “Ship and iterate” was originally “Don’t kill projects; morph them.”

The evolution is subtle, but important: from sharing information to sharing information via open processes, and from preventing work from being lost to making sure work gets out the door.

Far from throwing out the old guidelines, Google refined them based on greater experience with the kinds of decisions its employees need to make. The more you apply your doctrine, the more accurate you can make it.

Exercise

Management by doctrine

Reflect on and discuss these questions with your team. Use this worksheet to record your thoughts.

  • What do you think has been / will be your organization’s biggest challenge in adjusting to managing by doctrine?
  • How about for you, personally?

Exercise

Diagnose decision problems

Reflect on and discuss these questions with your team. Use this worksheet to record your thoughts.

  • Are there places where decision-making
    is breaking down in your organization,
    despite the presence of doctrine?
  • What do you think are the root causes?

Recap

Managing by doctrine is about managing principles more than people. That’s a big shift in your role as a business leader. Doctrine isn’t etched in stone. It’s meant to evolve.

In creating doctrine, be careful not to recreate read-only rule books.

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