This week will be all about rules: five days and five posts to understand and appreciate rules in a working environment.
Rules allow groups of people to work better together by making them more predictable to each other. But while the idea of rules is usually welcome, the vocabulary used around rules triggers opposite emotions: words like 'rule', 'consequence' or 'enforcing' remind us of 'harsh', 'strict', and 'punishment'. This makes enforcing the rules an unpleasant task, which in turn reinforces the idea that rules are unpleasant.
Here's the secret: to make rules more pleasant for everyone, make the system fair.
People break rules all the time and they are neither surprised nor angry when they get caught and punished after deliberately speeding or hiding income from the tax department. It's when the rules aren't clear or fairly applied that they become angry and resentful, when it looks like the rules were made to catch them out.
1- Make sure the rules are explained and undersood. This also includes the consequences if the rules are broken. Someone outside the team should be able to understand them. If not, they need simplifying. The sign of a good rule is when the team believes it is fair and useful.
2- Make the rules available at any time that the team might need it. Send reminders occasionally if the location isn't straightforward.
3- Make sure the rules are current. Outdated rules or rules full of loopholes will make a mockery of the system and there will be no reason to follow any of them. Ask the team how they would improve them, which ones they would eliminate, which consequence they would revise, which new rule should be added.
4- Make sure the rules are fairly and consistently applied. This isn't about who you like or don't like, or which rule you think is more important than others. The team should be able to accurately predict the outcome of breaking each rule. Make sure that's the case.
5- When someone breaks a rule, find out more. Do they understand the problem? Does the rule need explaining again? Does it not work any longer? How can you help them not break the rule again? Is there is something else you need to know on this subject? Tell them you want to help them so that you don't have that conversation with them again.
6- Apply the consequences. At this point, the decision shouldn’t be difficult or make you feel guilty. You have done everything to give the control back into their hands, and they still chose to break the rule. In fact, if you’ve done things right your decision to apply the consequences shouldn’t be a surprise and they will have come to the same conclusion.
In addition, your efforts will get known (even if you don’t speak to anyone) and the rest of the team will be reassured that you treat people fairly. And of course, there is the added benefit that going through these steps will actually result in a team member that changes their behaviour and is no longer a problem before you reach the last one.