Companies evolve over time and so do their policies and procedures. New policies are written to prevent certain issues from reoccurring, to fend off potential problems before they happen, and to maintain a semblance of organizational order and efficiency. For the sake of this discussion, I’ll just call them the laws of the land. There are laws for performance, attendance, compensated and uncompensated time off, customer service, execution of work, chain of command, performance reviews – you name it, there’s a way to create a law to control it.
But as your book of laws gets thicker, keeping watch over and holding everyone accountable to your laws grows in complexity. That’s why companies need managers and HR departments. Without a control mechanism, even the most commonsense laws will fade, allowing problems to spring up like weeds in an unattended garden. To succeed, laws need an accountability factor. It doesn’t matter what size a company is, someone must be accountable to protecting the laws of your company land. Even if it’s a simple reminder to someone that keeps ignoring a basic law like what time work begins, accountability must be ever present.
Fact: Employees are testing your company’s laws every day; not to the order of an organized mutiny, simply people being people. Just as you have amazing employees who adhere to every law in your book, you have employees who keep testing every rule to find a weakness – to find a chance to mold the company to their personal likes and preferences.
Here are six no-compromise strategies to keep your laws in play.
- Pay attention: I’ve seen leaders write policies and procedure manuals that truly have every “I” dotted and “T” crossed. They hand them out, have employees sign off indicating that they have read and understood every word – only to find the problems persist. Rules are nothing without accountability, and accountability is a pipedream if no one is paying attention. I’m not suggesting that you create your own police force. I’m suggesting that you and your leadership team need to be paying attention in order to help employees function within rule guidelines – and to identify and coach through infractions when they occur. Otherwise, breaking the rules will become the norm.
- Bending breaks rules: Any form of preferential treatment instantly creates a double standard. I don’t have a problem with special privileges being earned through clearly defined qualifiers, but allowing indiscriminate rule breaking or bending is a guaranteed way to contaminate your company’s culture. What does it say about your leadership if the “winners” in your company don’t do all that much to win? If you want to build and maintain a dynamic culture where everyone strives to do what’s best for the company, then you and everyone else must adhere to and live by the same rules.
- Tell them why: Every rule should serve a purpose. But without understanding, some employees can interpret rules as an infringement on their freedom or quest for life balance. For example: A company may have to implement blackout dates for vacations and time off in order to meet peak business demands or to avoid cash-flow challenges. Invest the time and energy to educate your employees on why certain rules, especially unpopular ones, were created.
- Define the line: In the world of no-compromise leadership, there is a term called “non-negotiable.” While some rules allow a little wiggle room, some rules cannot allow any. I’m talking about rules that are the foundation of what every company is built on that pertain directly to integrity, trust and respect for leadership, employees, customers, vendors and stockholders. Certain infractions may have immediate termination as the only option. Others may require probation, reassignment, demotion or specified skill training. Whatever it is, leadership must define where the line is drawn on foundational rules, because even just a little wiggle in this area is a compromise of the highest order.
- Let them fix it: One of my coaching clients just had an issue arise over multiple requests for vacation time that would leave too few service providers to meet demand, not to mention potential cash-flow issues. Although there were rules in place, it was unclear how many employees could take vacation at one time. These are “no win” situations for owners and leaders because some employees already had made travel commitments and others just wanted specific dates off. My recommendation was to hold an emergency staff meeting to clarify vacation policies and what can and cannot occur for the company to continue to function operationally and financially. Once all employees understood the conditions, they were instructed to work together to find a solution to fitting their vacation requests to those conditions. This approach required every employee to work together to achieve an acceptable outcome. More importantly, this approach shifted the solution to those directly involved.
- Share it: Leaders can’t do it all, and those who try will burn out fast. Accountability to protecting the integrity of the company by protecting its laws is everyone’s responsibility. I mean everyone, no matter what the role or position. Playing the “catch them doing something wrong” game means not paying attention to where the company is going. Every employee needs to be the eyes and ears for what’s going right or wrong – and must know they can speak up without retribution or fear. No one likes a “snitch,” but everyone likes to get his or her paycheck. There’s a difference between a snitch and someone who believes in and protects the company.
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