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Unwritten rules hamper

THE unwritten rules that exist in every business – procedures and policies that have no relationship to the business’s real goals or aspirations – can be very draining on productivity and morale.

This applies as much to the smallest business as to bigger concerns.

These unwritten rules – that often manifest themselves in the explanation “this is the way we do things around here!” – are often totally invisible to management.

Some might see these as part of the quaint culture of the organisation but most managers would be horrified at the extent of the problem.

Like the adage that, if you tell a lie often enough people will soon come to believe it, unwritten rules have a way of becoming enshrined in staff perception of what management requires.

The first thing to do is accept that there are unwritten rules in any business that need to be replaced by proper guidelines.

This can be a time-consuming exercise but the end result will be increased productivity and a concise document available for the initiation of new staff members.

Send an anonymous questionnaire to department heads, or to all staff members individually, asking them to spell out the policies and procedures they think should and could be changed to improve productivity and morale.

You’re looking for frank input here that might even reflect on your own or other people’s performance, hence the need for replies to be anonymous.

Once feedback is received, start preparing a policy and procedure

manual, circulating the draft form for further comment and refinement by the management team.

Once the manual is developed, stick to the rules – now they are written rules – and be consistent in their application.

That doesn’t mean the manual cannot be changed and updated as circumstances change – in fact, that will be a necessity.

Unforseen problems crop up all the time in the work place so flexibility is essential.

Finally, appoint a policy and procedures person and add this task to their job specification.

While on the subject of unproductive activity, what about all the rubbish jobs that rob staff of productive time. How many of them are really necessary?

One example of this was IBM’s former policy of requiring staff to act as phone-mail police, calling each others’ office phone numbers to ensure that voice mail messages conformed to ‘IBM Speak’.

Everyone resented these checkups and having to do them. IBM finally woke up and put a stop to it.

The objective is to get rid of everything that doesn’t add value – to customers, the business generally, or to the individual’s sense of purpose and achievement at work.

Ask people to write down what they believe is the rubbish accumulating around their core activities.

You might not agree with everything they say, but now you’ll have a chance to explain to individuals why tasks they see as rubbish might have greater meaning in the overall sense of things.

Two things will be achieved by this. Outdated, time consuming rubbish tasks will be eliminated and people will feel better about tasks they previously resented doing.

l Damien Parker is one of Australia’s most successful business advisers, authors and publishers.

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