Rule-Making Using a Guideline/Boundary-Oriented Approach

While we often think of rules as absolutes, where no violations shall occur, that type of rule making and enforcement can sometimes limit productivity. This approach may also fail to capitalize on the adaptive capacity of leaders and employees. Yes, it is true that some rules must be absolutes, with strict enforcement, and no allowable violations. These types of rules may apply to certain safety-critical tasks, such as Lockout/Tagout or other energy isolation policies designed to protect employees from immediate and catastrophic harm. With these types of absolute rules, violation often results in immediate reprimand or discipline.

On the other hand, some rules, such as those involving less safety-critical tasks, might be used as guidelines with upper and lower boundaries. These would be two boundaries would be like goal posts on a football field. The desire may be to get the ball in the middle of the uprights, but as long as it gets between them, points are put on the board. Similarly, these rules would act as boundaries and would be designed to meet the demands of the situation and to take into account safety and production. In this case the two boundaries would consist of a target safety and performance goal, as well as absolute bottom-line safety requirements that would not be violated. Supervisors and employees would strive to meet the target goal as often as possible, but if tasks needed to change to accomplish the job they may be allowed to make safety and performance decisions that step away from the target goal, so long as they complied with the minimum requirements for safety and performance.

This type of approach may give employees and supervisors the latitude needed to improve performance while maintaining appropriate levels of safety. Of course, one of management’s responsibilities would be to provide oversight to make sure the minimum requirements would only be used when absolutely required, and not become an excuse for continuous lower levels of safety.

Thanks, and have a great and safe week!