The Rule - Not the Exception

I landed my first Information Technology job about a year after graduating college. I was recruited along with five other graduates by a headhunter. I was really excited about the opportunity to work in my field of study and get paid for it. I thought the salary was great and I would be working with several of my friends from college. I now know that there were pros and cons to working alongside my friends.

One of the pros was that we could carpool together. That was a good thing because this new and wonderful job opportunity was 124 miles round trip from my parents’ house each day. One of the worse things about having been hired with a group of five friends was if one of us did something wrong then we were all chastised as a result. I didn't like being told not to wear open-toed sandals to work in the summer - that was a lesson I had already learned when I got my first summer job working for the Department of Energy at fifteen years old. I also didn't like having to sit in meetings where we were told not to talk on the phone, read the newspaper, wear tank tops or shorts, stand around and gossip. I called this management by exception.

That was the first of many experiences I had throughout my career where I found myself being chastised because someone else decided to break the rules, or management was changing the rules because of someone else’s bad habit or management was afraid that if they gave in to one person’s demands, they’d set a precedence that all others would want to follow.

So, when my turn came to make the rules I decided I wasn’t going to torture some poor soul by confronting the masses instead of addressing issues one-on-one. I established policies and procedures that help employees feel like they are an important part of the company, I made them readily available to everyone and requested acknowledgement of having received and understood them. I wanted them to understand how their efforts fit into the big picture. I thought surely no one wanted to endure what I did. When issues arose, I identified the responsible individuals and dealt with them individually.

But there were pros and cons to that decision as well. You see, rule breakers don’t like being singled out. It’s a lot more comfortable to be lost in the crowd – that way they don’t have to assume responsibility for having wasted everyone else’s time. They prefer to remain incognito and when you single them out, it can get pretty ugly because instead of changing the rules, most often you have to seek changes in the individual’s performance or behavior. I’ve been threatened, yelled at, written up, served resignations and called everything but a child of God.

In the end, I still prefer to manage using a set of rules that are beneficial to the masses and deal with the exceptions on an individual basis. I prefer to praise in public and criticize in private. Clearly communicating expectations by developing written policies and procedures eliminates a lot of confusion and makes it easier to deal with the exceptions.