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Saturday, January 2, 2016

How to Live with the Rules

     I quit my bank of 20 years last summer. Back in the Nineties, it had been a homegrown institution – friendly, flexible and helpful. In its 2015 incarnation, it was expensive, rigid and harsh.
     The local founder died a few years after I signed up, and the bank was bought by one of those big-and-getting-bigger regional players. Such folks often don’t have time or patience for friendly, flexible and helpful.
     There are Rules, you know. Services used to be free, and there might be an informative or explanatory phone call as there were changes. Now, an unwanted and unhelpful monthly “account analysis” costs eight dollars. These are things you learn about as new charges pile up on the statement.
     If you slip, however inadvertently, the predator pounces.
     My final straw, a couple of years after it became apparent the relationship was over, came with hundreds of dollars in penalties. I mistakenly paid an insurance bill twice: once by paper check and once by phone. When I found out, I stopped payment on the check. 
    Then the fun began. Before it was over, penalties totaled several hundred dollars.  
   Reminded me a bit of Multnomah Falls in Oregon -- an uncontrollable gusher of costs. I tried paddling. Waste of time. The bank would have none of it. 
   The once-lovable lady at the branch bank no longer was in the business of helping me out, I discovered. I would hear from someone else, she said.
     The “customer service” I got from that other person was a stern lecture and a guilt trip. Period. The Rules. No adjustment. No satisfaction, at least for me.
     So I was out of there, in search of a better way. Turns out there was one. The credit union where I landed has the full measure of that oldtime friendliness, and there are unexpectedly favorable business processes besides. A bridge over troubled waters, so to speak.
     Back at the old place, my piddly accounts won’t be missed, I’m sure, nor will my nasty exit evaluation bother much of anybody.
     But this post isn’t just about attitude. It’s about why people act that way -- how they see their purpose. It’s about The Rules.
     Some people love the clarity of living by The Rules. There are no decisions to be made on the spot, no exceptions to be puzzled through. My former bank has simplified its customer service by limiting/routinizing what goes on in face-to-face customer service. They put the rules-lovers in charge of dealing with anyone who tries to mess with the routine.
     Your rules tell the world what kind of an organization you have decided to be – just as your individual behavior announces how you view yourself and the others you come into contact with.
     Some outfits make a point of integrity. Some actually practice it, and some don’t. One bank ran a lot of ads about how friendly its tellers were, but most of them were abrupt to the point of grumpiness. Nobody was fooled but the bank president.
     The way people act results directly from who and what they think they are, and their collective behavior is their organization’s announcement of what it has to offer.
     If supervisors train their staff members to show respect to their customers, the workers follow the directions – if they themselves are treated well. If this place runs by The Rules, all the “training” in the world won’t hide that fact.
     That is because we all have our own personal “rules.” We have attitudes about authority, about decision-making, risk, civility, personal conflict and a host of other workplace realities.
     Those attitudes are the basis for our decisions, including how seriously we take our managers and those mission statements and inspirational messages they post on the walls. And The Rules.    
     You can live by the rules, which most of us were taught to do; many of us find this a comfortable place to be most of the time. It is predictable and, generally, peaceful.
     You can live outside the rules, which means you live by your own standards and in frequent conflict with most other people.
     Or you can live with the rules.
     To do this, you first get clear with yourself about what you are doing in this place. It’s a business arrangement.

     What are you providing that is of value to the organization, and how can you continually improve the value? What do you expect as a fair return on your investment, and what are you doing to make sure you’re getting all you deserve?
     Where you are asked to make reasonable adjustments in your rules in order to fulfill that arrangement, are you doing so consistently?
     Is there room for you to negotiate modifications to The Rules when you have reason to do so?
     And, what about when The Rules are represented as absolute, and are enforced unfairly?
     Opt out.
     Make that a rule.

(Everybody has a story about "The Rules." Please add your favorite as a comment here . . . so we all can enjoy it.)

More Certain, Less Project




  1. Excellent article. I have been a firm believer that employees are the number 1 priority for a business. If you treat the employees like you want the to treat your clients, you will get the results you want.

    1. You can tell as soon as you walk in the place what the management is like. If the employees feel respected, the service is so much better -- you want to go back there. Human values have business value. Too bad more bosses don't know that.