Recently I have been asked for my opinion on whether to introduce additional laws and rules into a company or to focus more on guidelines. I have not given my definitive answer yet so I thought I would open the debate before I do so – guidelines or laws? 


I know there probably is no definite answer, especially in business, but my current thoughts are that if you want to change people’s behavior then a clear set of guidelines might be better than a strict set of rules. 


Rules are great, they are straight forward and clear: ‘this is wrong, this is right, you must do this, you mustn’t do that, stop at the line, start when I say’ etc.’  while guidelines are just that, guidelines to what one should or shouldn’t do.


I feel that the big advantage in gudelines is that the use of the word ‘should’ encourages us to think about why. It’s like the responsibility for compliance is on our shoulders and no one else’s.  Whereas laws immediately drive us into challenging the authority from which they come: “Who are they to tell me what to do?” 


If we take it to extremes, an over usage of laws brings us to a police state, whereas an over usage of guidelines brings us to a nanny state, while the latter is undesirable, the former, I believe is unworkable and wholly unacceptable. 


Most of us only obey laws when: a) we believe it make sense and we have a personal benefit in doing so, and b) when we know we will never get caught.  

I don’t know about you but I prefer to receive a set of guidelines or principles rather being told exactly what I can and cannot do?  And I am equally prepared to accept the consequences if a guideline is not met. We can adopt guidelines and bring them into our normal group behavior and by doing so, a set of unwritten ethics or principles is created (like waiting our turn in shops – there’s no law for it but we do it none the less). 


I wonder if I am playing with words, or if I am on the right track here?


Have a good week,