You Don't Need Rules When Everyone Understands Your Values

Nobody likes making people follow rules and procedures. Very often, when someone is inclined to break a rule, it is with good intentions. Why do companies have rules? To try to enforce that people act in the best interest of the company. But rules are an inefficient way to do this since rigid rules can inherently only account for a fraction of potential scenarios.

For example, one of our retail customers has the following rule: charge customers for excess shipping. In a vacuum, this makes sense. However, the other week, this rule ran into the world of unexpected situations that is life.

Here's what happened: The company’s phones were down for a few days. A woman had been trying to call to order an expensive jacket that she needed on a Saturday. She could only get through to make the order on Friday.  That meant overnight delivery of an expensive package -> excess shipping charges. The sales associate naturally moved to follow the rule and charge the customer for excess shipping. Upon hearing this, the customer said they’d think about if they wanted to place the order and pay for excess shipping.

But it immediately struck the sales associate that this didn’t feel right. The sales associate knew that the company’s number one mission and core value was to deliver amazing customer service. Think about it from the customer’s perspective: call a store repeatedly, wait for days to order a coat, and then have to pay extra for shipping?! Not a good experience.

So, what did she do? Broke the rule, waived the shipping charge, ensured immediate delivery of the jacket, and dealt with the resulting calls from headquarters wondering why the company footed the bill for shipping, etc.

Was this the right thing to do? Absolutely. In this unexpected situation, the normally logical rule contradicted the company’s core value of ensuring an amazing customer experience. Luckily, this sales associate intrinsically understood the company’s values and make the right decision.

However, too often rules contradict a company’s core values in unexpected scenarios that pop up. Moral of the story is to make sure that you engrain core values first, and teach rules second. And if you teach core values well enough, you will likely end up not needing any rules.

Core values are hard to truly teach, but it can be done easily by sharing daily wins and examples of employees delivering on core values. Instead of teaching rules, show new hires 100 correct examples of how to approach unexpected situations. Your people will then learn the core values and figure out how to solve problems that pop up on a daily basis in the context of the company’s values and mission, not inflexible rules that may very well contradict your company’s goals.