During coaching, I probed this manager’s understanding of his staff’s behavior:
1. How did they learn the policies and procedures that are relevant to their job?
2. Why do they follow them when they lead to customer dissatisfaction?
3. What if they didn’t follow them, what would be the consequences?
The manager admitted the company monitors staff’s adherence to policies. and the norm is to reprimand those who don’t follow them and celebrate those who do. In other words, it reinforces policy alignment and squashes any thoughtful approach to do something different in a particular circumstance.
Rules are tools not the road map for fools.
That’s what a mentor told me many years ago. He wasn’t against following rules. Many are essential for safety reasons, for quickly resolving routine issues and for ensuring the smooth running of a company and a society. Alternatively, rules may exist long after the situation that they were introduced to control has changed. Then rules inhibit behaviors that could be productive.
So, if my client wants his staff to us their judgment in certain circumstances, then the workplace culture must create the conditions for them to do that. They must encourage within reason “intelligent disobedience.” Here are three key conditions that will enable staff to make good decisions when existing policies and procedures miss the mark.
1. Define your purpose, mission and values.
Make clear your company’s “reason for being” and reinforce it regularly. Identify in behavioral terms what you stand for and what drives your organization. For example, if you say “you’re customer focused”, then how does that play out in every department, in every store, in all your communication, etc? This tells the staff in very explicit terms what “being customer focused” looks like, sound like and acts like.
2. Empower by delegating authority with guidance.
Within defined limits, well trained staff should be free to use their creativity and ingenuity to improvise and solve problems. For example, any employee at a Ritz-Carlton hotel can spend up to $2,000 a day per guest to solve problems. The outcome is not just to satisfy guests but to wow them with “legendary” service. Most importantly, if someone makes a mistake, they aren’t chewed out but rather coached and reassured.
3. See your policies and procedures as “works in progress”.
That means review and refine them regularly. Create mechanisms to learn from your staff’s experiences, especially those on the front line. They can spot stupid or need to adapt policies and procedures. Remember, what seemed “right” or worked well in the past may not be appropriate today because of marketplace and workplace changes.
Smart Moves Tip:
Putting these conditions in place will inspire your staff to do the right thing, even as that “right thing” evolves. Realize that some rules are hard and some are soft. Therefore replace obedience with judgment. Help your staff understand the difference and give them the confidence to act upon it.
Have you broken an official rule recently in order to do what was in the broader best interest of the company? What was the rule? Were there consequences for you – good or bad? Would love to hear from you.
Copyright © 2012 Marcia Zidle – The Actualizer: Leadership Performance Coach.