B the Change profile pictureIn honour of B the Change Employee Engagement Week, the Ian Martin Group is sharing its new approach to policy writing with the #BCorp community.

Most corporate policies go like this:

Here’s what you can’t do and here’s what’s going to happen to you if you do it anyway [up to and including termination].

You probably have a policy like that somewhere in your organization or maybe somewhere you worked before, and as a certified HR person, I get it. Some companies and their lawyers will argue that it’s important to make clear what an employee cannot do so that when they do it anyway, it’s easy to terminate them.

It’s just that this approach to managing people is, well, just a teensy bit suspicious.

Here’s what I mean.

Theory X and Y

A guy named Douglas McGregor who worked at the MIT Sloan School of Management in the 1960s made this idea pretty simple.

He said there are two kinds of management.

The kind that believes that people are basically bad and lazy and hate to do good work (Theory X).

And the kind that believes that people are basically good and motivated and try to do great work (Theory Y).

There are individuals and there are companies that hold fast to Theory X and others that hold fast to Theory Y, and it’s the Theory Xers that write and uphold those good old up-to-and-including-termination policies. Every time.

But based on my own view of the world and my experience as an HR person and worker, I think those policies speak only to a tiny minority of people.

Most of the people I’ve encountered in the workplace like to feel proud of the work they’re doing, they enjoy mastery of a subject, they get embarrassed over their mistakes, they err on the side of submitting too few expenses, and they are cautious with their internet behaviour. [I worked with a lady who used to go to a local coffee shop to check her personal email….but that’s another story.]

Orange_juice_1_edit1No question there are other sorts of people who are looking for ways to game the system – $16 glass of orange juice, anyone? – but it seems to me there are way more people skipping the orange juice altogether when they don’t need it.

Or at least I know I’d like to work in a place where leadership and indeed all coworkers can trust each other to act in the best interest of the company and its stakeholders, including ordering the appropriate amount of juice.

And that is the approach we have taken to writing six new policies at the Ian Martin Group.

Wait! I thought you guys were cool. Why are you even writing new policies?

We’re totally cool…for the record.

And we had a very specific reason for writing six new policies.

Ian Martin Group certified as a B Corp in 2011 with 88 points in the B Lab assessment. We were pretty psyched to recertify in 2014 and hoping to beat our previous score by a good margin. Harder than you might think because though we continue to push for better practices, the assessment itself is getting tougher.

While we think our workplace practices are pretty hip, the B Lab assessment does reward writing those practices down – so that they are clear and easily accessible to all employees. For us this meant we could improve our impact score significantly by codifying some of our workplace practices

No problem. Just get HR to write a bunch of new policies, right?

Not at Ian Martin Group!

First off, we don’t have a traditional HR team.

We do, however, have an untraditional team called the Stewardship Council. The Council is made up of volunteer employees from across our branches who take up the mantle of stewardship on behalf of our whole company.

And in our first departure from convention, it was the volunteer, frontline employees of the company who a) suggested that we write the new policies, b) wrote them, and c) campaigned for senior management to put them into effect.

I was one of those two employees, along with my colleague Andrea Lockhart. We reviewed the B Lab impact assessment, chose the areas where we could best codify our practices, drafted the policies with coworker input, and presented them to our executive team for blessing and implementation.

So while most corporate policies can be said to be “top-down”, you could say ours are bottoms-up!

With great freedom comes great responsibilityTony-Hsieh

When Netflix talks about its workplace practices, it talks about the balance between freedom and responsibility – the two forces that keep us on the right track.

Two of our three core values at Ian Martin Group are entrepreneurship (which is akin to freedom) and stewardship (which is akin to responsibility). So we wanted to strike the same balance in our new policies as Netflix does in theirs.

As I said above, most policies tell you what you can’t do and how you’ll be punished if you do it anyway. But we wanted to tell people what they could do – free people to unleash their inner entrepreneurs and stewards – and to act in the best interest of the company and its various stakeholders.

Some examples:

Rather than offer set flexible (isn’t that an oxymoron?) work options, we’ve let coworkers know that they can make suggestions to their work team for alternative ways of working.

Rather than a prescribed program of learning and development (hit the snooze button), we’ve let coworkers know that they can propose all kinds of experiences to increase their mastery.

Rather than telling people they must buy the cheapest thing, we’ve given them ideas on how they can look for better supplier performance – B Corps, Fair Trade, Energy Star, etc.

These and other trust-based statements can be found in our six new policies, below here in the hopes that they will inspire you to build your own culture in keeping with your beliefs and values:

  • Business Code of Conduct
  • Career Development
  • Environment & Purchasing
  • Ethical Reporting (a.k.a. whistleblowing)
  • Flexible Work
  • Travel & Expense

These six policies have earned us about 17 points in our recertification but more importantly, they’ve helped us embed our values of entrepreneurship and stewardship in a practical way. They’ve reinforced a culture of trust, permission, freedom, and responsibility and they’ve codified some cool new and existing workplace practices.

Have a look and let us know what you think – ‘cause we Theory Y people always want to do better!