The Guideline Challenge

by | Jun 11, 2019 | Change |

Do we have any guidelines on X? Often a genuine question coming from a desire to do the right thing. Are you looking for guidelines or to be told what to do?

When the guidelines shared are a set of principles to follow rather than prescriptive answers, the reaction can be disappointment. Sometimes it can go as far as, ‘Just tell me what to do.’

But this is precisely not the point or value of guidelines. Guidelines help us ask good questions, identify options and trade offs; they help us think but do not prescribe answers. They encourage us to think about the context and situation we are in and bring an outside perspective into the mix. They help us to remember things in the ‘heat’ of the moment. Guidelines should help us turn our brains on, not off; they should be ‘anti-robot’.

When our teams ask for guidelines but are really asking to be told what to do, it can be an indicator of compliance or fear in culture you work in. Sometimes to help shift this we can ask, ‘what do you think we should do’ and then respond with ‘go ahead, give it a try’. And when things do not go as hoped, asking ‘what did/can you/we learn from this’.

Creating guidelines can also be terrifying if we view them as instruction books with answers. We’ve been programmed through our education to ‘teach to the test’ implying there always is a clear answer. And yet, life is not like that. Creating guidelines becomes less terrifying when they can be viewed as ‘our best questions to explore to date’ and when we view them as works in progress, not final manuscripts.

Photo by Syd Wachs


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