It’s an ugly job but it doesn’t have to be. Creating work rules is fundamental to business success and can be done without grief, confusion and resentment. It’s important to think of rules as a way of clarifying your expectations. When people know what’s expected of them, their chances for success are much higher than if they are constantly guessing what you want, how they can succeed and why things are the way they are.

Whenever more than one person is involved, you can count on differences of opinion as no two people think exactly alike. Rules serve as foundation for your business practices. There are three kinds of rules to consider:

Required Rules in Business

There are some rules that are required by law in every business. Examples of important policies and rules you will need to address include: smoking, sexual harassment, drugs and alcohol, work safety and paid family or medical leave.

Having these formally and clearly posted around the work place and included in employee handbooks can prevent lawsuits and may be required by law in some states.

Optional but Appropriate Rules

These are the rules that are not required by law. They communicate how you want your business to be run and what kind of behaviour you expect. For example, you may institute a policy or rule about answering the phone, when it is appropriate to start cleaning the shop before closing or how to handle requests for time off.

Maintaining a Balance

The key to rules is maintaining a balance. Businesses that try to manage by dictatorship are no more effective than businesses that manage by chance. For example, a business suddenly decides to institute a company-wide shirt and tie or blouse and skirt policy. There are people who perform manual labor and the majority of business is done without face-to-face customer contact. This rule can breed resentment, frustration and a whole lot of headaches.

Are Your Rules too Rigid?

It’s important to have a sound reason for your rules and to communicate them to your employees. Rules provide an important structure to all business activities but it’s important not to squelch your team’s creativity, ingenuity and enthusiasm.

A checklist to determine whether your rules are too rigid or just the right balance for success:

  • Does the rule affect one group or employee disproportionately to the rest of your team?
  • Is the policy truly necessary when considering the work the person does?
  • Does this policy conflict with actual working conditions?
  • Do I have a sound business justification that I can clearly and easily communicate?
  • Have I clearly outlined and identified when and how the policy will be enforced?
  • Have there been occasions in the past where this rule would have been useful?
  • Am I really willing to enforce this policy consistently and earnestly?
  • Have I documented the policy clearly and thoroughly and made sure every employee is aware of the changes?
  • Will it cost me more time, money and effort to enforce the policy than what I chance to gain by having the rule?
  • Have I clearly thought out and communicated the consequences for breaking this rule?
  • Are the consequences appropriate to the rule?
  • Do other businesses have similar policies and have they been effective and useful?

Avoid Policy-Making Pitfalls

There are two important ways to avoid policy-making pitfalls. One is to involve your team as much as possible.

When they’re involved in the process and have input, they’re much more likely to abide by the policies. This doesn’t mean anarchy, it simply means you will have to be creative in finding ways (meetings, suggestion boxes, informal lunches) for them to contribute and provide feedback.

The second critical component is making sure there is a sound business justification for a rule. When a person understands why something is the way it is, they are much more likely to accept it.