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?
This is a story of killing with kindness. Well, there isn’t any actual murder involved, but you’ll see what I mean.
About 30 years ago, when I was the director of training for a large national bank, I had the privilege of working with a kind, conscientious, and hardworking teller trainer named Donna.
She ran a two week training course for 15-20 tellers at a time. At the end of each day, a quiz reinforced the day’s teachings. After the two weeks, there was a comprehensive test. If the trainees passed the quizzes and the test, they would go into the branches for a six-week probationary period. If all went well, they would then become full-fledged tellers.
It was the bank’s policy that if a probationary employee had a shortage or overage, they were immediately terminated. One of the branch managers called me and asked me, as director of training, why so many tellers were ill-equipped when they came to his branch. As we did an analysis, we started to notice that several would-be tellers had suffered this fate.
I discussed this quandary with Donna and asked her to pull the fired tellers’ tests and quizzes. I began to notice a common thread: lots of eraser marks and crossed-out answers on the ex-employees’ papers. It was then that I learned that kind-hearted Donna was helping the struggling students with their tests.
I explained to her that we had a system in place — the tests and quizzes — that worked. But because she was ‘helping’ the tellers, it wasn’t working. She had to stop. She agreed.
Fast-forward eight months: Tellers were still getting fired during the probationary period. One teller had just purchased a car that he now was going to have to return, and another failed teller was going to have to break a lease on her apartment. In both cases, the two would-be tellers simply didn’t have the needed math skills, a fact that should have been evident on the tests. It was clear that Donna had helped them, and I called her on it. “I just want everybody to succeed,” she lamented.
My response: “Wouldn’t it have been kinder to those people if they had known in the first week of training that it wasn’t going to work out?”
She burst into tears. “I blew it.” Donna resolved to stop changing test results for the tellers, and our probationary firings decreased dramatically.
No one can blame Donna for doing what she perceived to be kind and compassionate. But in reality, her actions were just the opposite. When we work with people, it’s important to ask ourselves: “What is my motivation? Am I really serving the best interests of the employee?”
What employer policies do you have in your workplace that help employees?
Recently, my husband Bill and I were traveling home from New Orleans after visiting Katie, who is experiencing a new chapter in her life as a college freshman at Tulane University.
We knew that we would get to the airport very early. I had decided to use the time in the airport to write a blog, but I have to admit I was distracted. My head was filled with concern about friends and colleagues living in Houston during Hurricane Harvey, and my emotions were on overload having just hugged Katie goodbye. The creative juices were not flowing.
The topic I wanted to write about was how to re-engage with your work. And then, if you believe in miracles, one occurred! Janez Eli, gate agent for Southwest Airlines, appeared at the desk at Gate 9.
Janez picked up the loudspeaker and said confidently, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to have some fun. When a customer walks up to me and requests anything from me, I am going to say to the customer, ‘before I can help you, the travelers at this gate want you to do something.'” None of us really understood what she wanted, and there was little reaction. Then, Janez continued, “When I say that, it’s your cue, to say, ‘Sing.’” Again, none of us really got it, and not much changed in the terminal.
I waited about 5 minutes and then realized that I did need to ask Janez for something. Bill and I wanted to have our tickets reissued in order to rebook to a flight that would leave 90 minutes earlier.
I approached Janez and made the request. She smiled a huge smile that seemed to show, “This is how it’s done,” and she said to the travelers, “This woman needs something from me, what would you like her to do?” The group all said, rather weakly, “Sing.”
I asked if I could dance instead of sing. Janez was even more excited about that! She whipped out her cell phone, she played music, and I danced – right there in the middle of the airport! True to her word, Janez switched our flight. A stranger took a video, and she sent it to me. It can be seen here.
This process continued for an hour. Once the mood was set, many travelers came forward with requests…and a willingness to perform! We heard an assortment of songs, including a fabulous rendition of the national anthem.
So, I suspect for most of my readers, asking your customers, patients, students, or co-workers to sing might not always work out so well. But humor and creativity are welcome, no matter the job. So my question to you is, “How can you have more fun?”
Please let me know the ways you have increased employee engagement and found more fun in your work.