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Mastering the Art of Rules
by Mel Kleiman, CSP


I follow the same route to the airport every time I leave for a trip. And every time, I pass the same blue and white patrol car parked on the side of the freeway. I know the officer is sitting there and I slow down to follow the law. But when I am out of radar range, just like everyone else, I speed back up and the race is on again.

I know I am not alone in this behavior. In fact, you can tell where the officer is by the sea of red brake lights just before you reach his position. As drivers we all know the rules. But sometimes we try to stretch their limitations.

This is not good in life, and it is certainly not good in business. When you own or operate any type of business, you need rules and policies to help set boundaries of acceptable behavior for your employees, and your customers.

As a parent, I know that children and teenagers will argue, fight and rebel against rules like curfews and bed times. They test your limits and your resolve. But ultimately, they feel protected and comforted by your care and concern. Since we are all little kids in big kids bodies, employees and customers, also require your attention, your sympathy, your assistance, and structure.

The key is to have rules that make sense. As much as your employees and customers may gripe and complain about some of your rules, they will follow them and respect them if they understand why the rules are in place, in many cases it will even make things easier for all of us. It is the rules and policies they don't understand that they will not follow or find dumb and stupid.

Smart organizations use operational processes, fairness, safety and methods for maximizing employee effectiveness as the basis for their rules. They also involve a dichotomy of employees and managers to create, revise, and enforce these policies.

It is important to remember the enforcement part as well. Be it time out, a traffic ticket, a consoling session, a refusal to issue a cash refund instead of a store credit - nobody likes to be told no for their mistakes. But if we do not enforce the rules, what purpose is there for having rules in the first place.

In the criminal justice system, fines, probation, and prison, are as much as a deterrent to crime as they are means for rehabilitation or retribution. Of course, you can't lock an employee or customer up every time they show up late, or don't have their original cash register receipt.

You must be open, up front and honest in your communication with employees and customers. An open dialogue is critical if they are to understand the reasoning for the policies. This communication will also help to ensure that you don't have any dumb policies.

While you want to remain flexible, remember that when you bend the rules for one you open the door for others. You can be understanding without caving in.
In a previous career I owned a number of car rental franchises. When calculating rental usage time, the policy mandated anything over 25 hours was billed for another full day. Often renters would beg for mercy and more often than not, the counter agent would take the path of least resistance and oblige them. But with a new computer system came rigidity in the rules. Agents could no longer override the system. This eliminated conflict, set the rules in stone, and made the counter agent job easier. They appreciated the system because all they had to say was "I cannot override the computer." In addition, we made a lot more money.

Your employees and customers will not judge you by your words, they will judge you by your actions. Make sure that you have policies that are effective and purposeful. And then make sure you follow through by enforcing those policies fairly and equally.

Mel Kleiman, CSP, is an internationally recognized consultant, author, and speaker on strategies for hiring and retaining the best hourly employees. He is the President of Humetrics, a leading developer of systems, training, processes, and tools for recruiting, selecting, and retaining the best hourly workforce. Mel is also the author of four books, including the best selling "Hire Tough Manage Easy." You can reach Mel at (800) 218-0930 or (713) 771-4401mel@melkleiman.com.