Never Make a “Rule” You’re Not Prepared to EnforceNov 09, 2023
Another Important Practice When it Comes to Great Leadership
One mistake I see many leaders make is in the area of making “rules.” What is a rule, really? When I was in corporate, the Human Resources Manual or Employee Handbook, depending on the organization, always had a list of “Major Work Rules.” If an employee broke one of those rules, they would be facing “corrective action up to and including termination.”
The good news is, most of the time, these work rules were pretty strictly enforced. An employee stole something or got in a fight at work, and they were terminated. A piece of cake. Right?
The leadership behavior I see that is an issue is a tendency for leaders to try and solve problems by making rules. Obviously, this is sometimes necessary, but I would say most of the time, it’s not. To make matters worse, a leader will make a rule, and 2 or 3 months later, everyone has forgotten about it, including the leader that made the rule. What happens? The leader loses credibility. The organization learns that what the leader says today won’t be the case in a few weeks or months.
This is bad for everyone. A leader who loses credibility becomes ineffective. The staff reporting to the leader begins to get “jaded,” almost rolling their eyes when the leader makes another rule.
So, never make a rule you’re not prepared to enforce. If the rule is “no employee can park in the lower lot,” keeping the spaces open for guests, an employee who does must hear about it. They must at least be asked to move their car. If on Mondays all staff must wear a tie in the office, there shouldn’t be anyone in the office on Monday without a tie. Right?
What a “pain.” I say a healthy organization should be short on rules and high on expectations. Most people will perform according to organizational “norms.” Those few who don’t need a little direction, or even something more severe depending on the issue. Keep things simple and deal with the exceptions. If a rule is really needed (and sometimes they are), make sure you’re prepared to enforce the rule. If the rule no longer makes sense at some point in the future, don’t just stop paying attention to the issue; revoke the rule. In the same way, you established and communicated the rule, communicate why the rule no longer makes sense, and formally revoke it.