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Board Wisdom: Rules – Written or Unwritten?

All of us have policies and procedures that we use and work from in our offices. These guide the actions that need to be taken or decisions that need to be made throughout any given day. These can change when the “powers that be” decide that they need to be changed. Changes can be good or bad – depending on the view. Policies can be changed frequently or quickly, and sometimes it practically takes an “Act of Congress” to make changes. These are written rules and there are a lot of them.

People can interpret these written rules to be different than their original intent or to be more or less inclusive on the topic at hand. Everything in life is left up to someone’s interpretation! Right? So, can we agree that written rules can be complicated and open for interpretation?

What about “unwritten rules?” On any given day we each probably have at least five issues that hit us where our own internal “unwritten rule” thought surfaces. Multiply that by the number of employees in your office and there are a lot of “unwritten rules” in the office, far outnumbering the “written rules.” Is it any wonder why communication, customer service, leadership, and management are so hard?

In your daily life when someone does not do what you think or thought they should, they are probably breaking an unwritten rule of yours! What are some of your unwritten rules? Are you holding people accountable for your unwritten rules when you shouldn’t? Do your unwritten rules need to be written?

A few weeks ago, I was experiencing several moments throughout a particular week where my mouth was hitting the floor in that “I cannot believe they did that or didn’t do that” kind of way. It was so bad that I decided to write down all of these moments the next week – whenever one hit me. Here were my unwritten rules for that week:

  • Just the facts please

  • Who-What-When-Where-Why

  • Do not throw cigarette butts on the ground

  • When you call in sick, please do not give the gory details

  • When you say you will call back, call back

  • When I tell you I need to leave at 5:00, do not come in to discuss a project at 4:59

Do any of these sound familiar to you? I find that my unwritten rules cause me a lot of angst sometimes. People do not know what rules to follow if they are your personal “unwritten rules.” Sometimes your unwritten rules need to be turned into written rules and sometimes a person needs to get over themselves!

At times I have seriously thought about writing down some of my unwritten rules. I actually found that someone else has done that! Swanson’s UnWritten Rules of Management was written by William H. Swanson when he was the Chairman and CEO of Raytheon. He compiled these thoughts and his unwritten rules became written! There are 33 of them ranging from #1: Learn to say “I don’t know," to #33: Never be afraid to try something new. Seek this book out – it is a great reminder to all of us and it supports Mr. Swanson’s views of the qualities of leadership: confidence, dedication, integrity and love.

I know that we all have our own unwritten rules on each of those subjects! Take a look at your unwritten rules and make sure that you use them to your good, to take control of your life and your angst. If it needs to be written – then work toward that. If it does not, then perhaps it is time to get over it!

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