When creating equitable and inclusive workplaces, policies that attempt to force compliance aren’t effective, but rather creating a culture that nurtures self-regulation can drive positive change and meaningful results. In this post, I reflect on a required exercise to define my “house rules” for adoption and relate them to the workplace.
One of the requirements in preparing for adoption (particularly for a teenager) is to define my “house rules.” When I asked my mom for advice, the first rule that came to her mind was “Make your bed every day.” A bit conflicted, I chuckled and replied, “does that matter?” I make my bed most of the time, but some mornings are so fast that it doesn’t get done.
Retired United States Navy four-star Admiral William McRaven famously said, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.(1)” I agree with his sentiment, as it is a great way to start your day with a simple accomplishment, but do I want it to be a rule in my house? If it is a rule in which I require compliance, there must be a consequence for not doing it. Am I willing to hold myself to that standard? While it may be an expectation, the answer is no.
Since I do not want to be the kind of parent that says, “do what I say, not what I do,” I am not inclined to set rules for my house that I’m not willing to commit to—the same for me as a leader or manager. Certainly, there will be expectations that are unique to my child, but since I strive to be a servant leader, I can’t, in good conscience, command, expect, or require others to do something I’m not willing to do.
Compliance vs. Self-regulation
Honestly, I don’t even love rules, preferring guidelines and norms. As a child and young adult, however, I was very obedient and responsive to rules, knowing that compliance was rewarded with approval. That eventually wore off, because in the end, compliance shouldn’t be the goal, but rather self-regulation. Zimmerman (2) defines self-regulation as “self-generated thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are planned and cyclically adapted based on performance feedback in order to attain self-set goals.” It is one’s ability to manage behaviors, including setting goals and defining and enacting strategies to attain those goals.
Essentially, self-regulation answers the following questions, with examples:
- What am I trying to achieve? (Goal-setting: I want to be an inclusive leader.)
- What do I need to do to meet my goal or objective? (Planning: I will complete the Inclusive Leadership Reflection Tool with a Strengths-based Growth Continuum. I will do a 360º review to understand how I am doing. I will create a learning and action plan…)
- How am I doing? (Reflection-on-Action: I will review my action plan monthly.)
- What do I need to adjust to improve? (Modification: I am not meeting my goal in this area. Based on feedback, I need to make adjustments and focus on this area.)
When creating equitable and inclusive workplaces, policies that attempt to force compliance aren’t effective, but rather creating a culture that nurtures self-regulation can drive positive change and meaningful results.
Does a list of Don'ts motivate and inspire?
So with the tension described above, the task of making house rules lingered on my to do list for a couple of months. I’ve bristled at this exercise as I’m not too fond of most examples with lists of DOs and DON’Ts.
When I search for what other adoptive/foster parents use, I come up with long lists of things like:
- no violence
- no drugs, nicotine, or alcohol
- no skipping school
- no leaving things sitting around
- no electronics after curfew
- no food in the bedrooms
- no yelling
- no stealing
I don’t disagree, but do these rules inspire and motivate? I don’t think so, and they also don’t help people learn how to live, or rather how to self-regulate.
I also considered Theraplay’s three simple rules: No Hurts, Stick Together, and Have Fun(4), but since I am adopting a teen, I want something a little meatier than these three straightforward phrases.
Take a minute to reflect
Some may consider me naive, but I want to start with more values-focused and identity-developing guidelines that teach, motivate and instruct rather than command and demand compliance. I choose this same strategy for my clients and workshop participants.
Reasons for Non-compliance
Why do people not follow rules? A deficit mindset could lead us to make claims of subordination, or apply false attribution bias errors. Carthey et. al. (5) outline five reasons to explain non-compliance, or why people break the rules:
- Information Overload (too many rules!)
- Multiple rules on the same topic (conflicting rules)
- Length and complexity (confusing rules)
- Trivial “knee jerk” policies (meaningless rules)
- Naming and accessibility (jargon-y rules)
Crafting "House Rules"
So, with all of this in mind, I started brainstorming things that are important to me and things that I want to teach my future children. I began listing keywords and then paired them to make powerful phrases. I added a few more words and nuance to expound a bit (constrained by margin space in the graphic I created, shown below). Here’s what I came up with:
Applying this to the workforce
As I finished the list and submitted it to the agency, I realized these are great rules for us all to strive for and live by!
Take a minute to reflect
Once my future child is placed with me, I aim to co-create guidelines and rules for our home with them, similar to how I do when creating group norms or shared agreements with workshop participants. I want them to have as much agency and choice as possible in how we operate. I recommend you do this with your teams, too.
- McRaven, William. Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…and Maybe the World. https://amzn.to/3TQOeYa
- B. J. Zimmerman, “Attaining self-regulation: a social-cognitive perspective,” in Handbook of Self-Regulation, M. Boekaerts, P. R. Pintrich, and M. Zeidner, Eds., pp. 13–39, Academic Press, San Diego, Calif, USA, 2000.
- Grolnick, W. S., & Farkas, M. (2002). Parenting and the development of children’s self-regulation. Handbook of parenting, 5(2), 89-110.
- Theraplay Institute Sunshine Circles
- Carthey, J., Walker, S., Deelchand, V., Vincent, C., & Griffiths, W. H. (2011). Breaking the rules: understanding non-compliance with policies and guidelines. Bmj, 343.
- Casey, A. J., & Niblett, A. (2016). The death of rules and standards. Ind. LJ, 92, 1401. https://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=11261&context=ilj
- Why Compliance Programs Fail—and How to Fix Them, The key to success is better measurement. by Hui Chen and Eugene Soltes.