Be a strategic thinker: Set clear rules of engagement for your employees

One of the CEOs I coach was complaining in one of our sessions about not having enough time.

This is a complaint I hear often. Before jumping in with suggestions, I asked more questions to get to the root cause/need so I would not be treating what might only be a symptom.
When I asked what he wished he had more time to do, he laughed and said “paperwork, reading and doing reports so I can feel more on top of what is going on.” Knowing that most people hate paperwork and reports I said, “Oh that sounds like fun. I bet you can’t wait to have more time to do those tasks!”
After we both had a chuckle I said, “Here’s the deal: We make time for the things we like to do and find ways to not have time to do the things that are not enjoyable. Your desire to be more on top of what is going on is a good one. However, my guess is you are gravitating towards other activities you find more enjoyable, even if they aren’t productive. Can you think of what those activities might be that are taking your time?” The answer was the same as many leaders: meetings and firefighting.
Further curiosity led the CEO to reveal a recent incident that took up his time, mostly because of the frustration and self-doubt that occurred after the decision was made to allow a vice president to get away with deviating from a company standard. It was a new vice president who had hired an employee without getting approval for the hire in advance, even though the policy was, “all hires in the second half of the year need to be approved by the CEO.”
I asked the CEO if this policy was in writing and given to the new VP when she was on-boarded. His response was, “How could I possibly put all those policies in writing? There are far too many to write down!”
After pausing for a moment and allowing the reaction to settle down, I replied, “Yes, it does take a lot of thought to first imagine which rules of engagement (expectations, policies and procedures) are important. And yes, it takes time to write them down. And yes, it takes time to roll them out to the company and ensure all new hires learn about them in the on-boarding process. But let me ask you this: How much time do you spend re-discussing these rules of engagement and getting frustrated when your staff does not follow what you expect?”
Of course, to this he answered, “Too much time!”
At this point, we began to write out the common categories for the rules of engagement, which included, but were not limited to the following categories:

  • What are the spending limits?
  • What are the hiring limits?
  • What is the budget, by category?
  • If an employee wants to go over budget or deviate from a standard, what is the method for approval for deviating?
  • How will you measure results and report on them?
  • What are the hours a leader must be physically present at work?
  • What is the professional code of ethics, including communication standards and dress code?
  • What are the rules for performance management?
  • What are our customer service standards?
  • What are the consequences if these rules of engagement are not followed?

The CEO began to see that when the rules of engagement are clear, it eliminates many meetings and a lot of firefighting. He could also see how being clear upfront gives everyone a better chance of succeeding.
I shared with my client a saying from the Tao Te Ching, which offers wisdom on rules of engagement:
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists. Of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, ‘We did this ourselves.’”
Like most of my clients, I heard, “I guess it’s easier to react and firefight than it is to sit down and strategically think through what the company needs to succeed. Slowing myself down to get clear is difficult.”
To that I replied, “And that’s why they pay you the big bucks: not to be a babysitter or a firefighter, but to be a strategic thinker. Getting caught up in the minutia is easy for everyone. Being a strategic thinker requires slowing down, thinking and communicating those needed best practices upfront. That takes a confident leader to chart out those best practices…and I know you can do it!”
Challenge: What rules of engagement do you need for your company? How will you ensure they are clear?
Susan K. Wehrley has been a growth coach and consultant for 25 years. You can find out more about her consulting services, tools and resources at www.solutionsbysusan.com or www.BIZremedies.com. She can be reached at (414) 581-0449 or susan@solutionsbysusan.com.

One of the CEOs I coach was complaining in one of our sessions about not having enough time.

This is a complaint I hear often. Before jumping in with suggestions, I asked more questions to get to the root cause/need so I would not be treating what might only be a symptom.
When I asked what he wished he had more time to do, he laughed and said “paperwork, reading and doing reports so I can feel more on top of what is going on.” Knowing that most people hate paperwork and reports I said, “Oh that sounds like fun. I bet you can’t wait to have more time to do those tasks!”
After we both had a chuckle I said, “Here’s the deal: We make time for the things we like to do and find ways to not have time to do the things that are not enjoyable. Your desire to be more on top of what is going on is a good one. However, my guess is you are gravitating towards other activities you find more enjoyable, even if they aren’t productive. Can you think of what those activities might be that are taking your time?” The answer was the same as many leaders: meetings and firefighting.
Further curiosity led the CEO to reveal a recent incident that took up his time, mostly because of the frustration and self-doubt that occurred after the decision was made to allow a vice president to get away with deviating from a company standard. It was a new vice president who had hired an employee without getting approval for the hire in advance, even though the policy was, “all hires in the second half of the year need to be approved by the CEO.”
I asked the CEO if this policy was in writing and given to the new VP when she was on-boarded. His response was, “How could I possibly put all those policies in writing? There are far too many to write down!”
After pausing for a moment and allowing the reaction to settle down, I replied, “Yes, it does take a lot of thought to first imagine which rules of engagement (expectations, policies and procedures) are important. And yes, it takes time to write them down. And yes, it takes time to roll them out to the company and ensure all new hires learn about them in the on-boarding process. But let me ask you this: How much time do you spend re-discussing these rules of engagement and getting frustrated when your staff does not follow what you expect?”
Of course, to this he answered, “Too much time!”
At this point, we began to write out the common categories for the rules of engagement, which included, but were not limited to the following categories:

  • What are the spending limits?
  • What are the hiring limits?
  • What is the budget, by category?
  • If an employee wants to go over budget or deviate from a standard, what is the method for approval for deviating?
  • How will you measure results and report on them?
  • What are the hours a leader must be physically present at work?
  • What is the professional code of ethics, including communication standards and dress code?
  • What are the rules for performance management?
  • What are our customer service standards?
  • What are the consequences if these rules of engagement are not followed?

The CEO began to see that when the rules of engagement are clear, it eliminates many meetings and a lot of firefighting. He could also see how being clear upfront gives everyone a better chance of succeeding.
I shared with my client a saying from the Tao Te Ching, which offers wisdom on rules of engagement:
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists. Of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, ‘We did this ourselves.’”
Like most of my clients, I heard, “I guess it’s easier to react and firefight than it is to sit down and strategically think through what the company needs to succeed. Slowing myself down to get clear is difficult.”
To that I replied, “And that’s why they pay you the big bucks: not to be a babysitter or a firefighter, but to be a strategic thinker. Getting caught up in the minutia is easy for everyone. Being a strategic thinker requires slowing down, thinking and communicating those needed best practices upfront. That takes a confident leader to chart out those best practices…and I know you can do it!”
Challenge: What rules of engagement do you need for your company? How will you ensure they are clear?
Susan K. Wehrley has been a growth coach and consultant for 25 years. You can find out more about her consulting services, tools and resources at www.solutionsbysusan.com or www.BIZremedies.com. She can be reached at (414) 581-0449 or susan@solutionsbysusan.com.

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