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 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.)

Your Friend,
Wes Saade MD Signature

For Further Reading:

Find the Best People
Turn the Spotlight: Empower Others 

4 Comments
  • Chelsi Newsom
    Posted at 06:55h, 31 January Reply

    Having been an officer for several years, this reminds me of balancing the letter and color of the law. The letter of the law is what it is actually written to say, but the color of the law is what it is intended for (ie to protect and serve). Often times the two do not meet and you have to learn to balance the two and find what is best for the person/community. I thoroughly enjoyed the topic today.

    • Sandy
      Posted at 09:54h, 04 February Reply

      Dr W this is one of the many reasons why patients and co workers love you!

  • Misty Carver
    Posted at 15:42h, 04 February Reply

    The company I work for has a great culture that is family and team oriented. We delved into personality profiles to help us understand the personalities of those we work with. We learned that we have a large group of clinical staff who are very “rules oriented” and then there’s a group of business development staff who are not at all. It makes for an interesting dynamic but we make it work. The clinical staff has become more relaxed and the BD staff has started to “follow the rules” when they are working closely with the clinical staff. I believe that when we’re dealing with people (patients) nothing is black and white and we need to see our patients as individuals. There can’t be a specific rule for absolutely every situation that comes up when you’re dealing with people. Thanks again for your insight!

  • Kyletha Sanchez
    Posted at 23:44h, 04 February Reply

    I work with Awesome people and we are fortunate enough to have an Awesome Leader on our team who gives us this opportunity in doing so. When we need corrected of possibly making the wrong decision he is caring enough to speak with us and find a solution to the mistake we made, We also meet every morning and speak of our days schedule. I love my job and the people I work with.

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