Draconian policies – or not

Jul 31, 2017

When you have an AEC or environmental firm – or any business, for that matter – there is always a question about how strict your policies can or should be.

Generally speaking, I am not a fan of draconian measures (severe laws which result in harsh punishments for small offenses). Truth is, what we consider draconian in the context of an AEC firm has little to do with punishment, and more to do with an overly strict rule. Here are some examples of what some might say are draconian policies – all taken from real AEC firms. (I made them sound like they were written by Aristotle himself!)

  • “Thou shalt not arrive to work any later than 8 a.m. nor depart any sooner than 5 p.m.”
  • “Thou shalt not install any art in thine cubicle above the highest cubicle wall.”
  • “Thou shalt make thine request for vacation time off to thine supervisor no later than 30 days prior to thine vacation.”
  • “Thou shalt dress like a professional, which for men means a suit or sports coat, slacks, collared shirt, tie, and lace-up leather shoes.”

There are many more of these but you get the idea. The question is, is it a good idea to have these kinds of policies – in a firm that employs high IQ, difficult-to-find professionals? Do these policies do more harm to morale than they do good in terms of solving the problems they address?

There’s no simple answer. I was personally never a fan of strict policies, because I wouldn’t want to work in any environment that had them. At the same time, as an employer, I wish everyone was smart enough to figure out the culture or do what they think their employer wants them to do. My experience is they don’t. So we are too often torn between being upset with people for not doing what we want while at the same time not wanting to upset them.

Firm culture must provide the answer. “Culture” is defined as “what behaviors are rewarded and what behaviors are punished.” If the culture is strong, it will guide behavior. New members of the firm will learn the culture or be rejected. The rewards will be tied to cultural compliance. The fear here, too, is that the culture can be too strict – stifling creativity and making newcomers feel unwelcome.

Nothing is simple in business!

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.