I recently visited a small town that was my old stomping ground from my teenage years. Having not been back for 35 years, it prompted me to reflect on today’s world of technology and techniques and the constant flow of advice and tips on how to motivate, manage and develop people. It also prompted me to ask whether we overcomplicate things.

I got my first job in this town in a motorcycle shop. The owner – a former racer – was actively involved in the business. There were six of us as staff and we all wanted to do the best job we could. There was a sense of comradery and understanding that if we delivered a good service, our customers would happily pay a fair and reasonable price, and we could get on with enjoying what we were doing. For an 18 year old in the motorcycle industry, enjoying the job was relatively easy!

Within this simple picture, the owner was careful to stay involved with the daily goings on of the business, without doing our jobs for us. He knew how to ask us questions, when we had a problem, to help us figure out a solution – rather than telling us what to do. When people weren’t pulling their weight, the boss would simply remind us of what we were there for…but he rarely had to because one of us would usually call out our colleagues first. In such a close working environment, we were fair to each other and, because we were all so passionately involved in the industry, we wanted to take a level of care and interest in being part of the team. Rules were few, apart from the obvious OH&S necessities. We all knew where we were going and built lasting relationships along the way. People weren’t really calling it ‘vision’ back then, but because we were all so aligned to a common purpose, we all did the right thing.

Fast-forward to today and our world seems to be driven more and more by compliance. There are more rules and more policies and more processes and, while these have their place, there is often a lack of clarity and communication around the basics of purpose and how to get there. That lack of clarity is the failing of the business leaders and places too much reliance on rules being obeyed by people who are not really engaged in the vision. When service standards drop or internal conflict happens, then more rules are added to ensure people do the right thing.

My hometown visit made me wonder if we are overcomplicating our organisations by using layers of rules, policies and processes to drive compliance, rather than using a passionate and aligned team to drive success. When a vision is well communicated, and leaders are engaging effectively with staff, and people are passionate about the journey, I believe the need for so many rules and regulations diminishes. When we create communities with our people, rather than require compliance of our people, there is a much stronger foundation for achieving a shared vision.