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What can Hans Monderman teach you about management?

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What can Hans Monderman teach you about management?

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There’s a good chance you haven’t heard of the late Hans Monderman.  As a Dutch traffic engineer, you might imagine that’s perhaps to be expected.  He wasn’t just any kind of traffic engineer however.  He was a traffic engineer that had both a passion for road safety but also a loathing of traffic signs.

He believed that the plethora of traffic safety measures on our roads were actually making them more dangerous.  He believed that the insertion of traffic signs was a failure on the part of the road designer.

“The trouble with traffic engineers is that when there’s a problem with a road, they always try to add something,” Monderman said. “To my mind, it’s much better to remove things.”

And so he went about promoting his concept for a ‘shared space’, that would see traffic signs removed from roads.  The theory was that by making roads more dangerous, it would in turn make them safer, because it would force drivers to think more about what they were doing and how they could navigate safely.

The Dutch town of Drachten was one of the pioneers of Monderman’s philosophy.  The shared space project in the town saw all of the traditional traffic control instruments removed.  Out went traffic lights, road markings, even pedestrian crossings.  In their place was a roundabout, albeit a roundabout without any signs telling motorists what they can or can’t do.  There is also no demarcated pedestrian areas, so it’s hard to tell where the road ends and the footpath begins.

The point is, for an approaching driver, this lack of clear signalling promotes caution, and hopefully respect for fellow users.  The initial success of these pioneer projects resulted in similar schemes springing up throughout the world, including on Exhibition Road here in London.

You may be wondering what this has to do with social business or better working?  Well, I figure that there are distinct similarities between the various rules in place on our roads and the number of rules and processes that dictate how our employees should behave in the workplace.

There are a multitude of employee engagement related studies showing how much employees value having control and responsibility over their work lives.  Removing many of the rules that you have in place as an organization can go some way towards giving them back that responsibility.  Which would you start with?

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