Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Culture of Rules – Part I

There is a fascinating scene in the book “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” by J.K. Rowling. A new headmistress (Delores Umbridge) is in charge of the Hogwarts School of Magic and she is laying down some new rules. In fact, it seems that each day she is posting more and more rules about what must be done and about what cannot be done. As each new rule is posted you can just feel the energy and enthusiasm being sucked out of the students there. In a place where creativity should be encouraged, the plethora of new rules placed more and more limits on the young minds.

I was reminded of this scene when talking with a friend this week. I stopped by her office to take her to lunch and as soon as I walked in the door she grabbed a piece of paper from her desk and thrust it out to me, almost knocking me down.

“I got another memo,” she chortled as she pushed the official looking document towards me. “And you are not going to believe this one!”

She was right. It was shocking. To summarize the memo, a new rule was being added. Work was to be done between 8:00 AM and 4:00 PM only. New software had been installed on their servers and any employee logging in before 7:55 AM or logging out after 4:05 PM would be in violation of the policy and was subject to disciplinary action. My first thought was that this had something to do with tracking hours and overtime in an attempt to control payroll from people adding 15 or 30 minutes to their day. But reading more closely I realized that this was directed at every employee, not just the salaried employees.

“What’s the reason for the change?” I asked, figuring that I was just missing the logic here. “Has someone been abusing the overtime policy?”

“You got me,” was the retort. “All I can tell you is that I was talking to the CEO at 7:55 one morning after this change went into affect, and she smiled when all of a sudden everyone started working. It was almost like she got some kind of a thrill from the fact that it was quiet one minute, and things were operating full tilt the next. Of course, this eliminates any flexibility we have to stagger our employees’ hours, have them start a little early one day so they can leave early for a family reason, and any other kind of variance. The memo is clear that there will be no exceptions.”

"Any fool can make a rule, and every fool will mind it."
– Henry David Thoreau

Of course this was just the latest memo issued by the CEO in the last 9 months. Each memo had imposed more and more order on the organization by restricting what could and could not be done in the office, between co-workers, and with the customers. Their ability to handle customer requests had been severely hampered by all of the new rules, which basically tied the hands of the employees.

Next week we’ll explore the implications for your employees and your customers when such rules hamper forward progress….

At ECI Learning Systems LLC, we are dedicated to helping companies get the greatest return from their most valuable asset: their employees. We work with you to align 3 key organizational factors:
• Your Company Culture
• The Leadership Styles of your key managers
• The Expectations of your Employees

When these 3 factors are aligned, you create an energy in your company that improves productivity, reduces absenteeism, increases creativity, and positively impacts your bottom line. Contact ECI Learning Systems LLC today to get your free Workplace Evaluation.

Until next time…..

Dave Meyer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

1 comment:

  1. Rules can become a lazy persons means of trying to govern behavior. We say I want more of this and less of that behavior so I will create a rule. Often there are unintended consequences.

    Perhaps by getting to the underlying culture and philosophy; by articulating the values and engaging at this level we then don't need rules???

    Looking forward to seeing where this post goes.