Problem: Employee is doing something annoying or inappropriate.
Solution: Create a company-wide policy prohibiting the behavior.
New Problem 1: Avoiding direct conversations.
New Problem 2: Demoralizing 99% of your employees who are behaving properly.
New Problem 3: Wasting everybody’s time.
In a recent “Ask the Expert” article I read, the expert’s solution to a reader’s complaint about a co-worker who clips her fingernails in a public space was to recommend the supervisor issue a company-wide directive prohibiting the behavior. The rationale was that this behavior could easily escalate into flossing teeth and trimming nose hairs.
This is a typical response we see from leaders. And, it suffers from three false beliefs that drive the ever-expanding and confounding policy manual in many organizations.
FALSE BELIEF # 1: The solution to an isolated behavior problem is a new policy.
The solution is a direct conversation with the employee and among employees. If supervisors had the courage and skill to speak frankly and compassionately about inappropriate behavior, we would need fewer policies AND have fewer behavior problems.
FALSE BELIEF # 2: Inappropriate behavior, if not nipped in the bud, will escalate out of control.
Inappropriate behavior, when addressed directly, can usually be dealt with. Contrary to the fears of some supervisors, if we let nurses wear Crocs, they won’t start coming to work naked.
FALSE BELIEF # 3: Policies are better than individual conversations because they avoid singling people out.
We already know who you are. You know who you are. Because many policies are designed to control the behavior of a small few, they have the effect of singling people out while at the same time making it obvious to other employees that supervisors aren’t doing their job.
Great leaders solve problems without creating new ones.
Don’t fall victim to these false beliefs. Have the courage and develop the skills to deal directly with inappropriate behavior instead of hiding behind another new policy. The result will be higher accountability, less wasted time, and better morale. Here’s more on the concept of compassionate accountability as an antidote to drama.
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