Let the Rules Guide You, Not Bind You
A few months ago I went to the drive-through at the cleaners to drop off a few clothes. It was cold, and I was late for a meeting at work. It was 6:55am. As I drove up, the clerk walked over to slide open the door. She quickly let me know that she could not take my clothes yet—that I would have to wait until 7:00am.
I gave her an inquisitive look that communicated, “All you have to do is take the clothes in with you.” She said, “I have to check the cash drawer and get things ready before I can open up.” I calmly smiled and told her, “Of course. I understand.”
She was following the rules.
Rules in the Workplace
Rules. Policies. Procedures. Oh, how many wrongs we commit to our customers in the name of just following the rules.
As I drove away, I thought to myself that with all the teams I have led, this is always the tendency—to put our brains and common sense on hold and hide in the safety of “the rules.” After all, who can fault us for following the rules? The boss will not. The customer cannot say anything. Even our conscious cannot protest. We convince ourselves that we are good for doing what is expected of us.
But as a leader you are in between a rock and a hard place. If you allow your people to do whatever they want and not follow the rules, you may end up with mayhem on your hands. Monies may not be collected; important processes that support your operations may not be executed appropriately. However, if you tell them to strictly follow the rules, you may end up with robotic thinking and actions.
What’s the solution?
Breaking the Rules
The only rule I have on my team is: “Take care of the customer.” (our patients)
What about our policies and procedures you ask? They are guidelines. I expect my team to break the rules to take care of our patients. But use common sense, and have a good explanation as to why they had to break them.
In other words, if a team member follows our policies, but we get a patient not taken care of, then they did not follow the rules. We will have to talk about it. Sure, this makes many people nervous. But not me…nor the leaders who trust their people and their teams to make the right decisions and use common sense. In fact, many successful companies follow this approach. I recently read that this is the very policy that Southwest Airlines adheres to.
I encourage you to consider adopting this approach for your team or organization. If the people on your team are black-and-white thinkers who are unable to make such decisions, then you may not be able to do this. But then, you shouldn’t keep those people on your team anyway.
Let’s bring smart people in, train them and create a culture with them that fosters thinking for themselves and promotes taking care of people as its only policy. It’s simple. Educate your people on the other guidelines, tell them why they were put in place, and offer people freedom to use their best judgment in applying them.
Release them, and you will see unparalleled customer service. Simply stated, let the rules guide them not bind them.
Question: How strict are the rules in your workplace?
(I look forward to reading your response in the comments below.)
For Further Reading: