What is a policy?

Sharon Villines has written a post on what is a policy to clarify the distinction between policy decisions and operations decisions in sociocracy. Still, I am struggling with this – for several reasons. One reason has to do with terminology. I think policy is a false friend. We have the same word in Swedish, but it has a slightly different meaning. The word was introduced from English into Swedish in the early 1960s. A policy in Swedish is interpreted more as a guideline than as a rule, probably for cultural reasons. The power distance and uncertainty avoidance is very low in the Swedish culture, so another reason for my struggling is cultural. Organizations relate differently to rules and leadership depending on their culture. What I have seen from my own experience is that rules become more interesting to people when the power distance is high, while the tendency to pay lip service seems to increase. I don’t think organizations are driven by policies. Here is an example.

Right now, as I write this in August 2014, there is a forest fire close to my home. It is Sweden’s largest fire in modern history. It started a week ago and has given the emergency teams a very difficult task. The emergency operation is big involving 250 people day and night. I see the four water-bombing planes and the helicopters daily since I am living between the area where the fire is and the local airport. The aims are clear (to save lives and property, and to get the fire under control). The head of the emergency response has high decision-making latitude and can request resources from all Swedish authorities, including the police and the military. Policy decisions are made which are enforced by the police. Still nobody is in control! There is constant change and a massive amount of self-organizing. In short, people do what they do, not because there are policies, but because they are trying to do the right thing. That’s the real driver! You don’t need a policy to do the right thing.

What are the implications then? The traditional view in sociocracy is that policy decisions are made by consent, while operations decisions are made by the operations leaders. I think this is unnecessarily restrictive. My view is that the principle of consent is as applicable for operations decisions as for policy decisions, because operations decisions ultimately have to do with the ability to do the work. The persons who best understand the work should also be the ones who make the decisions, regardless of whether they are operations leaders or not. The key question for me is not whether a decision affects policy or operations, but who need to participate in the decision-making. This doesn’t have to be a lengthy process. Some decisions I can make myself, or together with a few colleagues. For other decisions, it’s necessary to seek consent from the entire team (circle) or possibly the whole organization (other circles). It depends on the situation and need. The bigger the decision, the wider the net must be cast.

So, what is a policy? Well, it depends on your language and your culture!

Related posts:
Sociocracy requires a new mindset
Scrum vs. Sociocracy
Sociocratic principles can be implemented in many ways
Sociocracy is a method, and still it isn’t
Implementing sociocracy without sociocracy
Sociocracy as practiced by the G/wi
Policies vs. agreements
Scaling sociocracy is all about the context
Unspoken sociocratic principles
Cultural dimensions of sociocracy
A prerequisite for sociocracy is a socios

Related posts in Swedish:
Holakrati, holokrati och sociokrati
Hur införa sociokrati i en organisation (del 1)?
Hur införa sociokrati i en organisation (del 2)?
Sociokrati är som permakultur, fast för människor
Sociokrati är som en skogsträdgård
Kurs i kväkarnas beslutsmetod, som sociokrati bygger på
En historisk tillbakablick på kväkarnas beslutsmetod
Sociokratibok: Idag publiceras boken
Några tankar om sociokrati
Min gästblogg på #skolvåren: Att organisera oss rätt


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