When managers don’t know what to do, they often make a wasteful and disrespectful mistake: they try to control people with rules when it is clarity that is needed. Here are some examples:
Rule: You must work a 40-hour week, arrive no later than 8:30, and take an hour for lunch.
Clarity: You must make discernible progress on fronts A, B and C and alert me to obstacles you can’t remove by yourself so I can help and the organization can continue to afford to pay you. If any of these requires you to be on site at 8:30 in the morning, then of course you have to be here. And when you finish A, B, and C, it’s time to talk about what comes next.
Rule: Every meeting must have an agenda.
Clarity: Don’t start a meeting unless you know what must be different when it ends. A list of topics on a nicely formatted piece of paper does not mean you will walk out of the room with significant outcomes. I want results, not agendas.
Rule: I expect a progress report in my inbox by 9:00 AM every Monday morning.
Clarity: I need to be sure we are on track to meet the expectations of our customers and partners, anticipating and preventing problems, and dealing with obstacles as quickly as possible. How do you know we will meet those expectations? What must we learn or do to be more certain? What can I do to help? I want results, not reports or excuses. And I certainly don’t want you wasting time trying to make it look like you are succeeding when you aren’t or waiting until Monday morning to ask for help.
Rule: Our dress code requires …
Clarity: We operate in a conservative industry and often have customers in the building. Thus, we need you to look professional by their standards, which means better dressed than 75% of them.
Rule: Doors will be locked if you arrive late to a meeting.
Clarity: We wouldn’t have invited you if we didn’t need you and making people wait is rude, disrespectful, and demonstrates a lack of planning and organization on your part.
Get the idea? Rules really are insulting to employees. You can’t tell talented employees that you want them to step up and take responsibility, and then hit them with a rule or a wasteful practice that adds no value. Furthermore, it is so much faster to create clarity. I have had clients who wasted unbelievable amounts of time writing long employee manuals and trying to make dress codes specific enough to be effective. Create clarity, not rules.