Enable Employees with Liberating Rules

iStock_000017057537XSmallIt’s mid-day in clear weather. Four cars arrive at an intersection at nearly the same moment. It’s a four-way stop with no traffic signals. Each car is headed a different direction – one north, one south, one east, one west. After a few seconds, one driver waves to the car across from hers, indicating, “Come ahead.” Once that car clears the intersection, the other cars patiently take their turn.

There are rules at work in this scenario. Everyone stopped at the stop signs. Drivers cooperated to enable each to safely pass through the intersection. If one driver had refused to follow the rules, an accident could have occurred. At minimum, a selfish driver would have caused concern and anxiety for the other drivers.

In life and work, rules can help us stay safe, work effectively together, reduce conflict, and understand how best to contribute to common goals. It’s the absence of clear guidelines in the workplace that can lead to power plays, politics, cliques, and further dysfunctions.

In organizations, clear rules and expectations are liberating for leaders and employees. They help define how to interact with bosses, peers, and customers so that relationships are valued while promised results are delivered.

Who is “in charge” of setting rules for work relationships and performance? Senior leaders are.

Senior leaders typically put more thought into their products and services than they do their organization’s culture, yet culture drives everything that happens in their organizations (good and not so good).

Senior leaders are responsible for 1) setting the context for action & activity (defining the rules: the organization’s purpose, values, strategies, and goals), then 2) aligning action & activities to those rules, ensuring the right things happen the right way along the right path.

In high performance, values-aligned organizations, senior leaders do a great job of juggling their multi-faceted roles. They must be:

  • Great communicators, consistently clarifying and reinforcing the organization’s purpose, values, strategies, and goals,
  • Great role models, consistently demonstrating values and behaviors while moving the organization forward towards it’s purpose,
  • Great cheerleaders, consistently and promptly pointing out aligned behaviors and actions, celebrating progress and accomplishment, and
  • Great referees, consistently and promptly redirecting misaligned behaviors and actions, ensuring performance is delivered the right way.

These responsibilities cannot be delegated to others in the organization. Senior leaders must be credible, consistent, enthusiastic champions of their organization’s desired culture.

When senior leaders embrace this proactive approach, they find they must change how they spend their time in the work environment. These responsibilities require time and effort, which means leaders must do less of other activities – less impactful activities – than they’ve been doing (sometimes for years). Senior leaders I coach often tell me that they spend 40% of their time on culture management compared to 5% of their time before making this change.

Join in the conversation about this post/podcast in the comments section below. Does your organization have defined rules for performance and values? How well do leaders communicate, model, and champion your organization’s desired culture?

What is it like to live in your organization’s culture? Share your experiences in my fast & free Performance-Values Assessment. Results and analysis are described on my blog site’s research page.

This research can help you refine your organization’s corporate culture. Contact me to discuss conducting the Performance-Values Assessment in your company.

Photo © istockphoto.com/yuri_arcurs. All rights reserved.

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