You wrote, "I am currently doing research on principle-centred
organization and am wondering if anyone has any thoughts on how to
facilitate movement within an organization away from a bureaucratic,
procedure-oriented, rule-based model to one where decisions are made and
day-to-day functioning is carried out based on principles."
First, make contact. Start where the organization is. I'm pretty sure
that underneath the bureaucracy, procedures, and rules are lots of
principles. People may not be aware of the principles, or use them
consciously, but they're there. I'm guessing that part of what you want
to do is help organizations be more conscious about the principles they
are using. Is that right? If you start with the assumption that there
are already principles there, and you bring an attitude of curiosity and
appreciation, that will help you make contact.
Second, gently bring the underlying principles out into the open. One way
to do that is simply to ask people to tell you what is important about the
rules and procedures they are using. Sometimes they'll know what's
important about them. Sometimes they will be confused by the question, or
by their answer. Sometimes they will think the rules and procedures are
silly. You (and they) can learn something helpful from any of these
Third, focus on the rules and procedures that people are confused about,
or that they think are not working well. These are areas where the
organization is most ready to be conscious about their principles. Play
around with your principle-centered ideas here. Once people are starting
to get in the habit of being conscious of principles, help them apply
principle-centered thinking to other areas.
Also, many organizations' decision-making methods don't include a "values"
step. If they have explicit methods at all, they often jump right from
problem definition to generating alternatives. For me, it's helpful to
add a step in between where I can think about what values I want to
achieve through the decision. That may be another good place to consider
A good reference for this is Ralph Keeney's "Value-Focused Thinking"
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992. ISBN: 0-674-93198-X).
The book gets a little heavy after the first hundred pages or so (in other
words, that's where I stopped <g>). But there's a lot of good stuff in
those hundred pages. And Keeney gives tons of examples from lots of
You wrote, "What is the balance between principle and procedure, obviously
you can't wholly dispense with it."
Right. Further, I don't think it would be a good idea to wholly dispense
with it, even if you could. If a procedure is working well, being
thoughtful about principles can be more expensive. Mostly, it's only when
a procedure doesn't work that you need to "go conscious" about it.
Here are some questions you can ask about procedures:
* What is important about this procedure?
* How do you know when to use this procedure? (This question is about
knowing the context in which the procedure is helpful.)
* What results does this procedure accomplish for you?
* How, specifically, does the procedure accomplish those results in that
context? (This question asks about principles, I think)
* What other ways might there be to get those results? What led you to
choose this procedure over the alternatives?
* What drawbacks does this procedure have? (If your answer is "none,"
you haven't thought enough about the question.)
* How do you know whether the procedure has succeeded?
* How can you tell in the middle of the procedure whether you are making
* Under what conditions should you "go conscious" about the procedure
and rethink your answers to these questions? (I think this question is
more important than knowing what "balance" to achieve between principle
* (Fill in your favorite principle-centered questions here.)
Much of the time, it isn't necessary for people to be continually
conscious of the underlying principles every time they use a procedure.
But make sure they have a way to find the answers to these questions when
they need them, whether the answers are in someone's head, or written
somewhere, or whatever.
Dale H. Emery | 27 Tall Pine Road Consultant | Berwick, ME 03901 Relationship and Communication | (207) 698-1650 For Successful Organizations | firstname.lastname@example.org
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