Do Systems Oppress or Create Freedom?


Rules. Laws. Procedures. Bleh, what a drag!

We all struggle against the norms from the 2 year old who looks you square in the eye and throws her food on the floor to the driver who just can’t stay under the posted speed limit.

It’s natural to justify, to fight and to push the limits right up to a point.

Sometimes we don’t care when others are pushing limits until we’re the ones who have to enforce those boundaries. Just like it didn’t bother me that some punk stole a car until he crashed it in front of my house at 2 in the morning and I woke up to crime scene tape and helicopters overhead.

In our businesses, we become the owner, the manager, the visionary, the expert and, sometimes, the babysitter. That’s a lot to do on top of serving clients, marketing, creating content and administering the business. Because even if we like to push limits the taxes and payroll need to be paid.

I encourage all business owners to develop systems that will lessen the need to manage, give expertise and babysit your team. But there’s a line between systems that encourage bureaucracy and those that create freedom within a culture of discipline.

Let’s compare the two:

Bureaucracy – You must always say “welcome to McDonalds,” mention the special and ask “would you like fries with that?”
Freedom – Your greetings should be polite and professional, reference today’s special and offer an upgrade option.

Another example:

Bureaucracy – advertisements must include the logo, the words “join us now” and two graphics
Freedom – advertisements should have branding, engaging graphics and a direct call to action

It’s subtle, I know, which can make creating systems confusing. After all, do you document specific details or just give the general guidelines? There’s no clear cut answer and it’s a situation that I work through in detail with private clients. Many times we’ll document the specifics of a system or task to track what’s working right now. As the team grows in experience and establishes trust the owner allows more freedom within the guidelines.

A team would not, for example, eliminate the “join us now” button without replacing it with another call to action such as “buy now.” In fact, by testing different wording, graphics or branding your business can test and use the most effective advertisements. By understanding that it’s not the specific words but the guideline your team has the freedom to test and try new things.

The answer to the question of this post is that systems can be written to oppress or create freedom within the boundaries. I suggest beginning with detailed information and then strategically allowing your team more freedom as they prove themselves capable.

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