Culture change: are rules and regulations around alcohol going to make a difference?

Penny Ferguson , 29 Mar 2012


As an HR director or business leader, are you drawing any parallels between the Government’s approach to dealing with the problems of binge drinking and the way our organisations attempt to create behavioural change?

This may sound like a strange question, but for me there are so many things that resonate, and my question is this: are rules and regulations the most effective way to change the way people behave?

The Government obviously believes so. Binge drinking is, without question, a serious and growing problem, but Government is only dealing with the symptoms, not the cause. Why do individuals feel the need to go out and binge drink? Probably because they think it's fun. How sad that we have become a nation where many people find fun in a bottle rather than more healthy pastimes. Those who passionately pursue activities and hobbies are much less likely to be among this number, perhaps because they're focused on a sense of purpose and belonging.

Just putting in numerous rules to remove from someone something they want, without their having something worthwhile to replace it with, I have never known to have any significant impact on behaviours. Usually, it just makes them devious, trying to find ways round it. You could therefore argue that you may be creating even more problems for the broader community. Where will they get the booze from if they don't have the money to get it? If it's 'the only way to have fun', they'll surely find a way – steal either the drink or the money to buy it, maybe?

The same thing is true in our businesses. When we continually create rules and structures to stop people doing certain things or behaving in certain ways, they often invest huge amounts of time in finding ways to get around them. However, if we focus more on helping people to see how they can really contribute and how they uniquely make a difference to their team and the organisation, we may create sustainable change. We may begin to inspire people to embrace their role so they get much more from every working day, which in turn may positively impact on their performance.

Let me put this into a context. How many companies have you worked at where a communication problem was dealt with by appointing consultants? How much real change resulted? Most of the time, when people are asked that question, they respond, 'not a lot' or 'nothing at all'. So, your problem is that individuals are not communicating and you put in a system to sort it? That won't work. If each and every individual took 100% responsibility for communicating, you wouldn't need a new system anyway.

At home, and I will admit sadly to this being very true of me for many years, you love your children very much so you keep telling them 'what to do' and what 'not to do'. Effectively, you are educating them into not thinking for themselves. You are actually teaching individuals how not to be responsible.

To change the culture of drinking, or to change any culture for that matter, necessitates something very different from putting in new systems. I believe if this is the route the Government goes, then the impact will be negligible and, within a couple of years, they'll be looking to 'upgrade' or put in a new system and the problem will have escalated.

How often have you seen systems merely create a 'fix' rather than bring about lasting change within your organisation?

David Cameron talks about responsibility but, if he just keeps putting in systems to tell people how to behave differently, then to my mind he clearly doesn't understand the true meaning. I wish, for once, the powers that be would start addressing the cause rather than the symptom. Then, and only then, will we begin to address so many of our challenges.

How are you applying this principle in your organisations?

Penny Ferguson is chairman at leadership development company, The Living Leader


8 comments on this article

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I agree with the points made

Karen 30 Mar 2012

I absolutely agree with the points being made. Rules & regulations and responsibility do not go hand in hand. Rules & regulations create dependency, and allow individuals to not make choices for themselves.

Culture Change

Adrienne McFarland 30 Mar 2012

It's about getting people to really take responsibility. People are not stupid and know what good and what not so good looks like. As Leaders we need to really listen to what we hear and enable people to find their own long lasting solutions.

Culture Change

Adrienne McFarland 30 Mar 2012

It's about getting people to really take responsibility. People are not stupid and know what good and what not so good looks like. As Leaders we need to really listen to what we hear and enable people to find their own long lasting solutions.


Emma 31 Mar 2012

So many people think they take responsibility for their lives .. but do not truly understand the meaning. If we could teach this to young people - would this make a difference ?

Whose fault?

Mark 01 Apr 2012

Great points around a social issue where yet again we see more rules and regulations being planned to try and address an issue that obviously needs to be tackled at source, ie individuals taking RESPONSIBILITY for their own behaviour.

Youth with Relish the Challenge

Sean 02 Apr 2012

I am sure this generation will really relish the governments challenge of breaking the 'new rules'. It will give them a real and determined sense of purpose to continue binge drinking which they may not otherwise of had. Sarcasm apart, the 'new rules' are much less effort and easier to implement than really addressing the problem.

Deal with the real issues

Christine Merlin 04 Apr 2012

Puts me in mind of McGregor's self-fulfilling prophecy. Lay down laws that impact everyone instead of addressing the real issues. How many people in our businesses are frustrated everyday by rules that are created for similar reasons?!

An article of two halves

Dr John McMahon 12 Apr 2012

When I first started to read this article I thought that we were going to be told how employers could make a difference to the binge culture by taking some responsibility. I was wrong. Its a pity as it was a good platform to shout that businesses could not only make a difference to the binge culture but they could also save money. Now that is a win win situation, social responsibility with increased profits. To find out more visit www.spreade.com

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