I recently read No Rules Rules, which was by far the best book I have read this year. The book is co-written by the CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, and Erin Meyer. It is a book about how the ‘no rules’ culture of Netflix has helped to provide and sustain their competitive edge. Rules and top-down controls, it seems, just get in the way. Holiday policy? Travel and Expenses policy? Not needed apparently. Why? Because they are created to prevent people from doing the wrong thing, require paying people to police them, and create a bureaucracy that gets in the way of a culture of freedom and responsibility.
There are three steps to building a culture that can benefit from ‘no rules’:
Firstly, you need to have a high “talent density” in the staff. Typically, high talent does not like to focus on controls, but they are also expensive compared to the market. This is all very well for a high-tech firm that can invest profits into salaries, but surely impossible for schools that operate with fixed budgets. However, let’s not fixate on that for now…
Secondly, you need to encourage a culture of “candour” in order to provide an effective feedback loop about performance. This is not to say that colleagues can say what they want – there is a considerable explanation in the book on the need for feedback to be provided with positive intent, and the need for training and coaching to support staff to do this well. Some food for thought here about how schools might ramp up feedback on a regular basis – what might the impact be of training and then encouraging students how to feedback to their teachers. Win-win?
Finally, the big one. Once you have the first 2 things in place, you can then “eliminate most controls by leading with context, not control”. What does this mean? Just that. Rather than spending time trying to control everything through rules and regulations, lead by explaining the context and intent of what you want to happen.
This last one is a difficult one, isn’t it! Do schools need extensive discipline policies? Do schools really need to ban mobile phones? Do they really need a special policy for uniforms? These are all designed to control student behaviour. But don’t they just create friction? I can only imagine how many school and teaching hours are wasted chasing around students about the need for the right colours, styles, or lengths?
More controls = more policing = more frictions = more time not spent on teaching and learning. That’s not to say that I am arguing against any rules, but I do wonder what the impact too much focus on rules in schools that also aspire to champion voice, choice and agency in their young people.
The point is that if you are forever telling young people what they can not do, you are not spending enough time telling them what they can do. And that’s the whole point of school is it not?
Something to ponder.