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A doctrine-based culture assumes that people can make sound judgments and that policy neither can nor should attempt to anticipate every circumstance and situation. In contrast, a compliance-based culture assumes that when something bad happens, it is only because someone somewhere did not comply with some rule. Lawyers love organizations that use this model because it leaves them so susceptible to litigation. The lawyer holds up a checklist in court and simply asks, “Did you or did you not follow this or that rule?”

Doctrine is the body of principles that are the fundamental truths that serve as the foundation for a belief system, behaviors, or reasoning. Principles are timeless; we use our judgment and reason to apply them in particular situations.

Policy embodies the pre-made judgments of an organization for anticipated situations. Through experience, organizations develop policy either for those situations that call for the same behavior or those in which standardizing behavior expedites the mission. Therefore, policy is usually directive with limited room or flexibility for interpretation.

After awhile, however, many organizations find themselves with a feeling of being painted into a corner by layers of overly-restrictive rules, with so many in place that they begin to contradict each other. Eventually, there are so many rules that everyone knows it is impossible to follow – or even know – all the rules and be effective.

This predicament typically results from a familiar sequence of events: as accidents or errors occur, organizations react by generating well-intended new policies and rules to prevent further error or harm. As long as the environment behaves as anticipated, these new rules may work and even improve the situation. However, as circumstances change the increasingly-restrictive operational environment becomes counter-productive to the mission, demoralizes the workforce, and leaves the organization susceptible to litigation.

Unwittingly, the organization breeds judgment out of its people and creates a culture of permission-asking. If you’ve spent a career in a culture that conditions you to follow the rules, when you encounter a situation without a corresponding rule or a rule you can’t remember, indecision and inaction while you wait for permission is all you have to fall back on. The more dynamic or volatile the operational environment, the more likely the weight of compliance undermines sound judgment. The result is a loss of ability to affect a positive outcome, or worse, behavior that runs counter to the organization’s stated values, usually accompanied by a headline no one wants, such as “Firefighters and Police Watch Man Drown.”

Sound organizational doctrine guides the actions of its people over time and distance. By emphasizing the application of doctrine and minimizing prescriptive policies, organizations inculcate their principles into their people so that they internalize them cognitively and intuitively. This internal interaction with principles generates consistent external reactions to circumstances – whether routine or extraordinary – that are more powerful and effective than a perfunctory compliance with the rules.

Clear foundational doctrine provides the operational and legal underpinning for intent-based operations and builds a culture that resists the inclination to expand rules. Employing doctrine serves to define desired end states, distill priorities, and clarify boundaries of action. Established doctrine promotes and increases initiative and accountability throughout all levels of the organization.

MCS offers several doctrine development services to assist clients in laying a solid groundwork for workforce development and cultural advancement:

  • Development of foundational organizational doctrine
  • Mapping organizational doctrine to leader behavior and culture
  • Policy and rule alignment, including safety and risk management
  • Executive and workforce education and rollout