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Understand Systems: Are rules made to be broken?

resource management blogIn most organizations rules and policies guide a variety of practices and processes to ensure the organization operates safely, fairly, and profitably. 
However, many times we get “Mixed Messages” in organizations. Understanding Systems and how employees grasp complex interrelationships and interdependencies is an important element affecting how an organization Manages its Resources. 


The takeaway here is that the way rules and policies are designed and established matters too. Over the years I too have been guilty of giving folks mixed messages. 

One example was when I owned a small retail store in a regional mall. I was fussy about having things neat and clean and one day upon noticing that the shelves were a little dusty mentioned to an employee that keeping the shelves clean was a top priority. I didn’t even remember making that “off-handed” statement until one day I noticed my sales associates busily dusting the shelves while potential customers roamed the store. It dawned on me, what I had done. My employees interpreted the “off-handed” comment as a policy. 

Obviously, the next time we had a meeting, I explained that in addition to operating safely, fairly, and profitably, taking care of our customer was a priority and that cleaning the shelves, while important, was not in the same league. 

Another example was when I was an international client manager charged with developing consultative long-term relationships with clients. This meant, that it was important for me to spend a lot of face-to-face time with them.  However, on the other hand every time I filled out an expense account for a dinner with a client it seemed they (the accounting office) required more documentation and evidence than the time before. I about lost it when one day they demanded itemized food bills or else they won’t reimburse me for the expenses. To complicate matters our organization has a policy of not paying for alcohol. Therefore, I end up eating hundreds of dollars per year out of my own pocket. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem worth all the effort and administrative trivia to take someone out for lunch or dinner.  

On several occasions, I had heated discussions and had to spend what seemed like days trying to get an itemized menu bills from a restaurant which in some cases didn’t issue them, or because I forgot to ask for one upon paying.  To make things worse, my expense checks had at times been held-up for weeks. Quite frankly, I was ready to quit and go somewhere that valued my sales and technical abilities. However, I remembered that rules and policies are made for a reason and that being a steward of the organization’s resources was also an important part of the job.

Obviously, in this organization the roles and functions of technical sales professionals need to be clarified as well as specific policies and procedures. A balance between technical sales and administrative activities is a necessity. A good client manager must realize and grasp the complex interrelationships and interdependencies within an organization. The organization’s accounting department folks were only trying to do their job of managing the organization’s resource.  

What To Do: Actions You Can Take Now

  • Ask your employees what rules, policies, and procedures get in the way of serving your customers and clients.
  • Review or flowchart business processes that are causing problems to illustrate complex interrelationships and interdependencies; then consider streamlining.
  • Hold annual training sessions with your staff conducted by appropriate members of your support functions i.e., accounting, finance, operations to discuss policies, procedures, and outline requirements and priorities.

How to Learn More

Read About the 35 Competencies Needed to Succeed

For more about information, refer to Dr. Wesley Donahue’s book Building Leadership Competence: A Competency-Based Approach to Building Leadership Ability. 

Try a Free Online Course 

If you’re new to how effective a professional online training course can be, try Centrestar’s free Professional Ethics course. See how convenient online and on demand education can be. Click here to try our free course.

About Dr. Wesley Donahue

Wesley Donahue is President of Centrestar, Inc. a unique training organization that specializes in helping people identify anduse the 35 competencies needed to succeed in any profession. Learn more at www.centrestar.com. 

Wes’s background is in engineering, six-sigma black belt, certified project management, and business ownership. He’s also professor of Management Development and Education at Penn State University where he leads an online graduate program in organization development and change. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. or use our contact form.