Make a Rule / Keep a Rule

I was driving home today and saw a construction sign on the sidewalk. It read: “Sidewalk Closed, Use Other Side.” Ahead was a section of the sidewalk which was, indeed, closed off and impassible.

By the time a pedestrian encounters this sign, he is well into the middle of a long block.

The sign is at least implying that the pedestrian should cross the street in the middle of the block to get around the construction. The alternatives are:

  • Ignore the sign, and walk on the street around the torn up sidewalk.
  • Backtrack to a legal crosswalk, and cross the street where it is legal to do so.

This situation is actually fairly common in a lot of companies. There is a rule “Don’t cross the street in the middle of the block.” Then there is an expectation that is incompatible with following the rule.

  • “Be careful, but hurry.”
  • “Stop and fix problems, but don’t lose production.”
  • Stop for quality, but make the numbers.”
  • Get 90 minutes of work done in an hour.

The team member has the same alternatives as above – ignore the expectation, or ignore the rule.

This is a slightly higher level than Hirano’s observation that “the words ‘just for now’ are the origin of all waste.” Here we are putting the team member in an untenable situation because there is no action available that is clearly OK.

Take a look at the rules you have. Take a look at the actual behaviors. Remember that what people actually do is generally what they sincerely believe you expect of them.

If it is impossible to follow a rule, consider why the rule exists.

The words “Do the best you can.” are a warning that you are in this kind of situation.

One Reply to “Make a Rule / Keep a Rule”

  1. I really like this post for it simplicity and how it resonates with almost anyone who has ever worked in a large corporation. My take on this subject is based around the idea of rules at work and if they actually work. I think a more effective way of creating the desired behavior is to model the way from the top down. If there are rules in place that management doesn’t follow, why should anyone else? In a different company, there were no rules around when to show up or leave or around a dress code. But the successful management staff was always the first in the door, the last to leave, and always looked professional. This trickled down to all employees and I can hardly remember anyone ever showing up “late” or dressed inappropriately.

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