Rule Rethink

Is it time to reassess your office rules?

When I was in my twenties I went to visit my girlfriend Anne at her parents’ home on the Kilmarnock River. Once there, I found myself helping with their spring cleaning ritual, and a ritual it was! It included setting up their porch for outdoor summer relaxation. Down from the attic came bright chairs and tables, seat cushions, and a huge 1960s indoor-outdoor carpet. Trying to show initiative, I started to unroll it.

“Stop!” came a roar from their entire family. Startled, I froze. They explained, “We start unrolling from this corner, not that corner.” “Why?” I asked. The answer: Because that is the way it had always been done.

Now Anne’s family were loving and generous. They invited me to share their home and go out on their boat. They treated us to a crab feast and they lavished attention on us. They just had rules. Some made sense to me, and all made sense to them. I see the same phenomenon in many workplaces. Think about the rules that you have in your office. If you use the last of the paper in the copy machine, do you replace it or is it the job of the person who follows you? If the workday starts at 8:30, is it okay to arrive at 8:31 or even 8:51?

Of course we need rules, but problems arise when we don’t communicate and assess them. So ask yourself, “Are office rules serving you or are they getting in the way?” If you’re not sure, ask your colleagues — they will be happy to tell you if your rules are in their way!

Once you figure out the keepers, communicate them clearly and without judgment. I find starting with “I would appreciate it if…,” is a great way to get the conversation started.

Let me give you an example of a rule done right. In a workplace I frequent, there is a sign above the copier that reads, “Use the second tray and input this code, or the copier will jam.” I appreciate that clarity. I don’t want to be the one who jams the printer and creates a big hassle. And that is really the litmus test for good rules:  Do they make the workplace a more efficient, friendly, and productive environment for everyone?

What are some of the rules in your workplace, written or unwritten?

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