Running an effective operation requires rules. Businesses need to establish rules for acquisitions of materials and labour, capital requests, quality control, and other operating procedures. These rules formulate a framework that enables smooth execution. A lack of them, or failure to follow these rules, would lead to adverse effects.
Here are five practices with rules that dampen productivity and efficiency.
- Vague rules
Vagueness leaves room for interpretations. Though it could be perceived as flexibility, vague rules often lead to inconsistent practices. A chain of fitness gyms has a rule that requires the manager at each location to provide a monthly review on the performance of each program. There is no specified due date. As a result, the owner receives the reviews three weeks or later after the end of each month. This affects his ability to be proactive with changes and promotions. Clear rules that identify who needs to do what, when and why are necessary to facilitate the expected outcomes.
- Conflicting rules
It is inevitable to have conflicting needs as a business grows. Operational conflicts could occur in the form of schedule, approach, use of information or resource. At a non-profit organization, the alternate-week cycle for processing payroll and expense reimbursements aims to spread out the workload for the accounting team. However, the managers were constantly struggling to meet the deadlines. Accounting met with the managers and realized that the due dates for submitting the timesheets and invoices were in the same week but on different days in the week. The due dates were quickly ratified, helping the managers to better handle the administrative work. Collaboration is the best way to uncover rules that create conflicting demands. The affected areas work together to develop a unified approach and the associated rules.
- Dumb rules
It is easy to create rules for reasons of convenience, workarounds, or politics. Extraneous rules generates more work for little benefit. At a utility company, all expense reimbursements have to be authorized by two people. This creates a bottleneck when the signing person is not available. The rule is not effective because most expenses are pre-approved. It is redundant to get the signoffs again when the money is spent. There are rules that have been implemented for years but are still followed as no one has challenged their relevance. Look out for these “dumb” rules because they tend to cause frustration and stall execution.
- Accommodating practices
It is counter-productive to implement rules but at the same time, make allowance to accommodate those who deviate. In every business, due dates for timesheets are important to meet the payroll deadlines. Employees won’t get paid when their timesheets are late. If the accountant accepted late timesheets, he sent a message that the deadline won’t need to be observed. This creates a last-minute rush for himself to work frantically to process the late timesheets. The situation could get worse when employees notice the accommodating practice. Rules are implemented to achieve certain results and for the benefits of those involved in the work. When there is a need for flexibility, make specific modifications that maintain the integrity of the rule in question.
- Lack of policing
Rules are made to be followed for the best outcomes. Breaking a rule could create gaps causing problems for the downstream work. The manager for a customer service centre works closely with the repair crew to ensure that appointment scheduling follows the rules for location assignment and the average time for repair work. When the customer service reps don’t follow the rules, the repair crew won’t be able to meet the appointments scheduled, leading to complaints. The manager needs to ensure that her staff understand why the rules are set and how to apply them. There needs to be a designated individual to monitor that rules are followed. In absence of an individual to police the rules, operations could be chaotic.
The key objective of having rules is to maintain a coherent operation that facilitates consistency and efficiency. When rules fail to serve this objective, it is necessary to review their applicability. Be prepared to make changes that serve the business. Rules are meant to provide a means to an end, and not vice versa.