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The official New Kind policy on policies

My friend and business partner Chris Grams wrote a great blog earlier this week on whether or not companies should have vacation policies. We decided long ago at New Kind that we would not have a vacation or sick leave policy. You need or want time off, take it. We support it. We believe it’s important. Go and enjoy. Come back fired up. But we’ve now gone a step further—we have an official “no-policy policy.” In other words, now it is our policy not to have a policy about personal leave. In fact, we believe a no-policy policy means no policies. About anything. Period.
We believe accountability is balanced with freedom. You have the freedom; be accountable. Don’t screw it up. If we see abuse, we’ll deal with it. We won’t regulate it because we believe regulation is a sign of design failure. We believe, as a community, we can design a better experience. Included in our Official Policy of No Policies (OPNP) we now have a policy of no performance reviews. Nearly two years ago Samuel Culbert, Professor of Human Resources & Organizational Behavior, UCLA, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the “one-side-accountable, boss-administered review is little more than a dysfunctional pretense.” He was right.Does this mean we don’t believe in performance? Not at all.

Does this mean we don’t believe in measurement? Not that kind of measurement.

What it really means is that we don’t see the competitive value in traditional performance reviews. That’s where research and writings by Professor Culbert and others support our intuition: “performance reviews pretty much suck.”

We’re not saying there is no value; we’ll concede that there probably is some value. But the value earned compared to the cost simply—the infamous ROI–isn’t sufficient to invest the considerable time and emotional energy such efforts demand. Especially when businesses need to be more innovative to compete. This isn’t simply the matter of comparing the wasted time that could be used to innovate either (but consider the total hours a 1000-person firm wastes on performance reviews annually!), but the damage these reviews wreak on morale, collaboration and teamwork.

Performance reviews cause enormous stress; hardly an objective of an innovative workplace. Creative organizations do better in an environment where play is valued and nurtured. There is nothing playful about these types of regulated management practices, designed to measure by force that which it can not objectively or accurately measure.

Which brings us to the most obvious but unspoken truth about traditional performance reviews—they incent and reward the creation of bullshit. And I’m not using that term frivolously or in a deprecating sense, but in the sense that Harry Frankfurt, philosophy professor emeritus at Princeton, who has analyzed the concept of bullshit “as related to but distinct from lying.” Professor Frankfurt has convinced us; bullshit is a highly destructive force.

And it is a huge business expense. No two ways about it, the ability to create and process bullshit is deeply rewarded in performance reviews and the enforcement of many corporate policies. Political players—operatives—prosper in such environments. But creative workforces abhor bullshit.

At New Kind we prefer no bullshit. No policies. And certainly no performance reviews.

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