Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Enforcing the Rules

While conducting management workshops, I've sometimes had to caution new supervisors about the danger of being too strict in enforcing the rules.

For every action, there is a reaction and enforcing some rules can produce unintended consequences. The supervisor who carefully clocks every minute an employee may be late in returning from breaks can expect that the employee will, in retaliation, choose to squeeze every second out of future breaks.

For by reducing the relationship to one of rules, the supervisor has invited similar behavior by the employee and a sad truth quickly emerges: the rules don't always favor management ...and employees can also read rule books.

New supervisors know the rules. Experienced supervisors know what to overlook.


Anonymous said...

Many supervisors don't understand that their jobs are to accomplish the mission and care for the people. Their job is not to enforce the rules. The rules are part of the environment.

And great supervisors know that you can mention something that needs to change in an informal context and the odds are that your team member will adjust behavior to match your expectations.

And great supervisors know that team members don't like feeling "caught" even if they "should know" the rules. That's why I advocate what I call a Transitional Supervisory Conversation where the supervisors says something like, "I've noticed that you've come in late the last couple of days. I want you to know that if that continues I'll need to document it."

As one of the best supervisors I studied said, "Most supervision happens in the cracks in the system."

Michael Wade said...


I really like that Transitional Supervisory Conversation!