If the Team Doesn’t Know the Rules, It’s Not Their Fault

My family once hosted a foreign exchange student at our house for about a month. When he arrived at our house, his first question to me was “What are the rules at your house?” Not wanting to sound like some kind of ogre, I said, “We don’t have too many rules at our house.” And I told him a couple of rules that we had in our house. And I thought that was that.

Over time, I noticed that he did some things that annoyed me. And my thought was “That’s really rude. Why doesn’t he know any better?”

I told him that I was disappointed with what he was doing. Later he told me, “You didn’t tell me what all the rules were.” Then I realized I couldn’t hold him accountable for something I didn’t tell him. He had asked to know what the rules were, but I didn’t tell him what they all were.

This same thing applies to your employees at your workplace, but they won’t necessarily ask you what the rules of your culture are. That’s incumbent on you to tell them. They won’t know how to operate in your organizational culture if you don’t tell them.

Here are the things you need to tell your people so they know how to follow the rules of your culture.


What do you always do?


If there are certain things that must always be done, then you must train your team to do those things. If you want certain things done a certain way, then you must provide that level of training. And if you don’t train your team to do what you want them to do, then they will not do what you want them to do.

If you think that training wastes time that your team could spend on productive activities, then think again. John Mackey and Raj Sisodia explain in their book, Conscious Capitalism, that the average amount of training that an employee receives in the retail industry is 16 hours. At The Container Store, the amount of training employees receive there is 240 to 270 hours.

Culture is an important part of having employees who will do what you want them to do. And training is essential to create the culture you want to have, because culture is the process by which the organization runs when you are not around.


What do you never do?


If you want people to not do things, then you have to make sure that you tell them what you don’t want them to do. They will not pick it up by osmosis. Your team will not do what you expect; they will do what you inspect.

One of my clients had a policy of how their service technicians were to collect payment from their customers. One time when the office manager was following up with a customer, she discovered that the service technician collected the payment in an incorrect way. As a result, that discovery tipped off the company that this service technician was operating in a way that the company never did business. That led to this service technician’s dismissal shortly thereafter.

You must incorporate your training program as part of your onboarding process. Only by having this component included in the process of introducing everyone to the culture of your company will it take root inside your company.


What limits do they have on their authority?


It is important to explain what everyone is allowed to do within the extent of their authority. Make it clear what decisions they can make and what they need to get approvals for. If you don’t explain that to them, then they will do what they think is best within the situation.

A couple years ago my son went to grocery stores in our area to request donations for a service project he was doing for a nonprofit organization. To receive even nominal donations of $25 or less, most grocery store chains required a customer service manager level approval. However, Martin’s authorized whoever was working at the customer service desk to approve a $25 gift card on the spot in exchange for a letter on organization letterhead describing the purpose of the request.

Decentralizing the authority to make such low-dollar decisions frees up managers from having to make minor decisions. And it enables them to have the bandwidth to make more high level decisions.


What freedom do they have to use their judgment?


Take time to explain the level to which your team can exercise their authority and judgment. While it is important to hire people who have good judgment, it is important to allow those who have good judgment to be able to use it.

Nordstrom’s Code of Business Conduct and Ethics says in bold capital letters “USE GOOD JUDGMENT IN ALL SITUATIONS.” They expect employees “to use good judgment when it comes to taking care of our customers and in your interactions with other Nordstrom employees and vendors. … When we talk about using good judgment, it's really about how we treat our customers, how we treat each other and how we do business.”

Innovation happens when people feel free enough to exercise their good judgment without fear of reprisal (1 John 4:18). People will do the right things more often than not when they are expected to use good judgment.

Your team needs to know the rules. When they know what the rules are, then they can conform to the culture you want to create. But if they don’t know the rules, it's not their fault.


Robert McFarland is the author of the bestsellers, Dear Boss: What Your Employees Wish You Knew and Dear Employee: What Your Boss Wishes You Knew. Robert is also President of Transformational Impact LLC, a leadership development consultancy helping companies be who they say they are by making their ideals actionable at the nexus of brand and culture.


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* Perform organizational culture assessments,
* Coach leaders how best to lead their teams, and
* Train teams how to best perform like a team?


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