I walked into the break area of our office and swung open the refrigerator door to grab a quick snack.
The cans and bottles in the door got jostled around, and as I started to rearrange them, I was surprised by a loud crash. One of those glass Coke bottles had slipped under the shelf's rails, fell to the concrete floor, and smashed all over my shoes.
As I mopped up the soda with 130 slim, perforated paper towel sheets, an evil thought crept into my head. A new policy:
No glass Coke bottles in the office refrigerator.
Or maybe more broadly -- No glass bottles in the office!
Thankfully, as I cleaned up the mess, I caught myself. To my knowledge, there has never been an explosive glass Coke situation before. This was a first time occurrence, and only caused a minor inconvenience to my day. So, why should I be so quick to layer on the red tape and create more policy?
But, on occasions just like these, unnecessary office policies are born. Here's what you can do to avoid them.
1. Fix the disease, not the symptom.
Creating a policy is like putting a band-aid on a wound. You're fixing the symptom, but doing nothing to stop it from happening again. You're not addressing the real issue.
My mom is a nutritionist, and I remember her asking me, "If cars keep falling off a certain cliff, would you put a trampoline at the bottom to catch them, or a guard rail at the top to stop them?"
Think about the root cause of your issue instead of the headache that it creates.
With my soda debacle, the drink slipped through the cracks. Maybe we could put a small basket on that shelf to hold smaller items. Or, maybe we could label a soda section of the refrigerator to keep drinks together. These small innovations would solve the problem better than prohibiting glass bottles would.
2. Only create policy for repeat offenders.
Obscure things happen. In software development, occasionally users report bugs -- errors that they experience under a particular set of circumstances. When deciding which bugs to prioritize in our queue, we always focus on issues that have been reported the most. It's only natural to solve the biggest problems first, right?
The same goes for creating policies. Only create a policy if the issue is popping up again, and again, and again. The rule of three is a pretty good guideline to go by. Once something happens three times, create some kind of structure to prevent it from happening again. But avoid the temptation to act sooner.
3. Invite criticism of your idea.
When you create a policy, you shouldn't broadcast it to company before you get someone to check your work. In my office, Chelsey, our Operations Manager, is the first line of defense against all of my bad ideas. She's the bodyguard between me and the rest of the company, standing in front of the building and swatting away my stupidity like a game of Fruit Ninja.
Everyone needs a Chelsey. Pick someone in your company that understands the big picture and has the confidence to stand up to you. When you suggest a new policy, consider any criticism, and use the debate as a checkpoint to see if it's truly worth following through.
4. Create a formal policy as a last resort.
If you couldn't solve around it, the problem keeps happening, and your trusted advisors are on board, only then should the policy become law in the office.
As I've written before, dummy proofing your business creates a culture where only dummies want to work. So keep the red tape to a minimum. The glass coke bottles are probably okay to stick around.