The Eagle Blog

The Problem With Rules

One of the classic management mistakes is to implement changes/new rules in reaction to an event or situation.

What do I mean by that?

Example 1:  Someone in the company gets caught surfing questionable content on the internet at work.  The company reacts by removing internet priveleges for the whole company.

Example 2:  Someone in the company is caught abusing expenses so the company implements a whole raft of new expenses policies that everyone needs to abide by.

Example 3:  Someone gets drunk at a company event and causes some upset, so the company stops allowing drinks at company events.

It is very often a “knee jerk” reaction to a bad situation.  What management needs to understand before implementing a bunch of change is (a) whether the issue is systemic, or just the individual involved; (b) is it a result of poor education/bad judgement from one person or is there a wider issue; (c) Can management address the issue through education and communication or are a new set of rules needed.

The problem with rules is that they change your culture … and the more rules you have the more you have to police them, and the more it polarises us and them.  If at all possible it is far better to be able to treat people as adults and set the right expectations rather than treat them like kids who need to be told what to do.

Yes, rules are needed and sometimes its the only way … BUT rules carry a cost and it is important to weigh up the impact of new rules before leaping to introduce them.

PS.  This applies to GOVERNMENTS too!!! 

Kevin Dee is CEO of Eagle (a Professional Staffing Company)
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2 thoughts on “The Problem With Rules

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say in this post but the path to a solution is long and hard.

    First of all I suggest a few other problems with rules:
    1. No matter how many rules you write, there will always be things that fall outside the scope of the rules. This leads us into a death spiral in which we write more and more rules in more and more detail for rapidly diminishing benefit.
    2. Most rules are not strictly applied which downgrades the credibility of the entire sceme.
    3. In rule-driven organizations employees are not capable of independent action and must always ask for permission.

    Anyone who has raised a teenager will have first hand experience of how they will always find some (bad) thing to do that was not explicitly addressed by the rules of the house.

    To add to your point about treating people as adults and setting expectations I would add the idea of clearly establishing what they are ACCOUNTABLE for. For example:
    – treating all co-workers and customers with respect
    – asking for help when they need it
    – helping their co-workers succeed
    – the happiness of each customer
    – finding better ways of getting work done
    – always behaving in an ethical manner

    Take a look at the “Ethics of Choice” website (I have no affiliation)

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