…ethics rather than rules.” – Wayne Dyer
I’m sharing this quote (courtesy of self-help author and motivational speaker Wayne Dyer) because it strikes me of late that being in HR can make one cynical about rules if one is not careful. Having been charged with enforcing all manner of various rules (across a myriad of different contexts) over the years, I’ve lost track of the number of times that I’ve been asked to bend or even break a catch-all policy that hasn’t met the needs of an appealing party.
Of course, this is ultimately all well and to be expected; after all, rules intended to apply to an entire population lack the nuance to cover every possible situation by both necessity and design. Broadly applicable policies are intended to give leaders and their teams guidelines on what is acceptable behavior, not a frame of reference on how to handle every situation.
To this point, I have seldom seen a policy that doesn’t – somehow, somewhere – have an exception… but it is also equally true that I almost never see a policy that doesn’t warrant at least one exception. This is because rules – by their nature – are often drawn along somewhat arbitrary lines. Granted, the fact that said lines are arbitrary doesn’t negate the necessity of drawing them… but it nevertheless makes them imperfect and occasionally in need of deviation and/or revision.
…Earlier in my career I struggled with identifying when a policy should or shouldn’t be flexed, but lately I am much more comfortable in this space because I’m more in-tune with my moral compass. See, most of us know what the “right” thing is to do – whether there is a policy in place or not: Knowing what it means to treat someone fairly is not a difficult thing to work out most of the time. But what causes us to sometimes struggle with doing the right thing – despite knowing what steps we should take – are the consequences that can come from being the lone voice in the wilderness. Ultimately, if others in power aren’t behaving in an ethical manner it can be easy to fall into a corrosive cycle of behaving in a way untrue to one’s character due to incentives that encourage one to do so.
Values, you see, trickle from the top down.
…I am fortunate to work with a high character leadership team that makes doing the right thing easy. But I have had times in my life where this was not the case – and suspect that at some point (hopefully far) down the line this will be the case again. Regardless, I hope to always look to be part of the solution by living my values (and communicating the importance of those values to my team) even when it’s tough to do so.
With that said, as we get started this week I would ask that you take care to think about what your actions communicate to your team about your values. Or – if you’re an individual contributor – think about what your actions communicate to your peers and customers. Emphasize what you want to see from your team by recognizing and rewarding the behaviors that you want to see repeated. Practice what you preach.