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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

No Rules Here?

Today's blog post is inspired by the Susan Howatch quote: "One wonders what would happen in a society in which there were no rules to break. Doubtless everyone would quickly die of boredom."

Your children likely think you have too many rules, sometimes you think that the government has too many rules, and from time to time the thought crosses your mind about the rules in the workplace too. Society itself didn't start with rules. In fact, there were people roaming the Earth before the Ten Commandments even came into play. And if you're the religious sort, you know the only rule for Adam and Eve was not to eat the apple off that tree...and that single rule was apparently one to many as the story goes. Needless to say, we aren't the first people to think there are too many rules.

If we threw away all the rules, Howatch thinks we would be bored...but my concern is we would lose our creativity. Bending the rules helps us think outside the box. Challenging authority is how many new ideas came about and it is how we grow and develop. It's only 10:30 in the morning my time and I'm doing a quick review of the rules I've already followed:

-Make your bed before leaving the house
-Brush your teeth
-Eat breakfast
-Take your vitamins
-Buckle up those kids
-Drop Carmen off at school by 8:15
-Don't drive faster than 25 mph
-Stop and pay taxes before they're late
-Get your business permit
-Stop at the stop sign
-Yield for the yellow light
-Say please and thank you at the coffee shop
-Hold the door for the nice lady

And the list goes on and on...some of these rules are sillier than others. We all understand the importance of wearing a seat belt but others may think it a waste of time to make the bed before leaving the house. Regardless, these are rules that I follow either out of courtesy, tradition, law, or just for good measure or safety.

Think about the rules you follow or enforce each day; especially if you are a manager, leader, or if you own a company. How did the rule come about? Was the rule made years ago because you had an employee or teammate who had an issue or problem and now it is being enforced out of tradition or habit? Do you have too many rules? Too few rules? Rules that aren't pertinent anymore? Rules that encourage people to break them (ie: silly rules)? If all of your rules are fabulous, wonderful, and necessary...does everyone on the team know about the rules and have they been explained in a way that makes sense to the majority? This is the key to successful rule following.

If you have a rule about eating at a company work station, have you explained to the team the benefit of following the rule? Ie: We do not allow eating at your work station because of the potential for a mess, and since you are on the phone all day, we wouldn't want customers hearing any chomping or chewing since it's unprofessional. If you are going to drink at your desk, please use a covered container to avoid spills that would ruin the company equipment and technology. This explanation helps the team to know what the rule is, why the rule is important, but there's something's the cause and effect factor. Let your team know what happens if the rule is broken. If we find someone drinking without a cover, they would be required to ____________ for the first offense and after the 2nd offense, the punishment would be: _________.

As humans we like to challenge authority and rules, it helps to know what the consequences of our actions will be. Then we can weigh the consequences with our desire to break the rule. The best example of this is the traffic law - the speed limit. I know the speed limit, because it's clearly shown on signs around town. I also know that following the speed limit is important for my safety and the safety of others. However, today I was running late - so my mind quickly analyzed the situation and here's the conversation that took place in a few seconds in my head: If you drive 32 MPH instead of 25, you'll be able to get there on time, and chances are you won't get pulled over...but if you do, the ticket wouldn't be too bad and you haven't had one in a while, so the points shouldn't be an issue, and your insurance company probably wouldn't drop you, but it might be easier to apologize for being late than to pay all the penalties, and if you get pulled over you'll be even later, and it's a small town so you'd be embarrassed and get a bad reputation with the police. You better just go 25 MPH and hope for the best.

In the scenario above, had I not known about points, the balance in my bank account, or the insurance cost I might have chosen to this is a great example of why consequences play a key part in rule making and enforcing. Take a look at the rules you have in your home and see if you could be doing a better job explaining the importance of the rule, the consequences, etc... and you might even find that you have too many or too few rules. The number of rules doesn't matter, but they should be meaningful whether in your home or work environment.

May your paths be abundantly filled with lemons, sugar, and sunshine (and a few rules sprinkled in here and there for good measure)!


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