Nobody seem to like rules these days, probably because it is in human nature to not obey what is established by another party (wether this is the authority or not), or because our society seems to be obsessed with creating at least a dozen new ones each day. It seems that for every problem that we as society face, we believe that a new rule or regulation will solve the issue by tagging what is accepted and what is wrong or punishable.
A few years ago I was in Barcelona Spain in a taxi, I was very amazed how clean the city looked like and I asked the driver if the fines were really high for littering and I was yet more surprised when he told me that there was no law against littering, when I asked him the reason why the city was so impeccably clean, he said that they are educated that way, they grow learning that throwing garbage in the street is wrong, that it affects everyone and since this conduct is part of the culture of that city, no law is necessary.
In a perfect world we all would know what the right thing to do is and would not need any rules, we would know that we have a responsibility of what to and what not to do and would abide to our conscience. Sadly the world isn’t perfect. Even if it was, even if everyone would have the best intentions to do things right it would be necessary to have a place to go for a reference on what is appropriate and what is not for each different environment, as common sense doesn’t always apply in the same way in different situations or social groups. That is why ground rules are so important.
A definition of Ground Rules is that they define the processes by which groups will make decisions, communicate with each other, and the general decorum of everyone’s behavior while working together.
At GeoSys we believe that having a clear understanding based on a known set of policies and rules are basic for conducting good business in an ethical manner.
It may even seem exaggerated to have an article on this subject, but think about it, a business that depends on geographically distributed teams needs more than any other have a clear set of rules. With human nature being what it is, employees will test limits and act “creatively” in workplace situations, so you need a strategy for developing, communicating and enforcing a set of policies and practices that reflect your standards of acceptable behavior.
Also and with all due respect, in my years as a consultant, I also found that even customers sometimes tend to “bend” the situations to gain a sometimes unfair advantage and get what they want, wether it is something reasonable for them or even something totally capricious and with not sense at all. Yes, it happens. I can definitely remember a case when the client acted as if I was his employee sometimes and some other times he acted as if I was his contractor (which I was), I won’t get into specifics, but if you are guessing in which situations he chose to act and demand the rights of a company boss and in which to limit his responsibilities as the ones of a client, you will probably be right, it was a matter of convenience, (his). Having said that, it is also truth that all customers are different, and that this was an isolated situation that I faced in my early years as a software consultant, however, in my experience there is nothing that hurts more a good consulting business than the lack of a clear set of rules on how to proceed on each situation, this applies for everyone, project managers, vp’s, developers, designers; even our customers (as at the beginning of the relationship we provide them with a document explaining his rights and responsibilities, which they must agree beforehand. A policy for which we have received very good comments from our best customers).
We all need to know very clearly what to expect from each other and what is and is not expected from us.
But a successful policies and practices strategy does more than draw boundaries; it also recognizes and addresses people’s needs.
It is true, when you get to the heart of the matter, performance improvement and generally maintaining great work and business relationships is really about the process of setting expectations and meeting them. The focus in business is not just about meeting specific goals, but also about how you achieve them. And the “how” affects the liabilities you create in the process.
So how can we make sure our contractors have clear expectations and are treated fairly as they work to help build our company? The answer is found in the way we address four key elements related to the development and deployment of our policies and practices: roles, rules, consequences and tools.
People like to have a clear understanding of their role in a company as well as the roles of others. Every successful team has well-defined positions for its members: Everyone knows what he or she is to do, how to do it and how their performance can impact those around them. In business, this means we have clear reporting structures that spell out who’s in charge and how tasks are to be accomplished in the organization.
Managers and contractors need to share a clear understanding of what is and what is not acceptable behavior within the company. Unfortunately, in today’s workplace, an employer can be held liable for the bad behavior of an employee, especially when that bad behavior affects other employees, clients or individuals. Having a clear set of behavioral expectations is critical to establishing that we’re not contributing to that bad behavior as an employer.
Setting clear and specific behavioral standards in the form of rules establishes a framework for spotting and addressing violations of those standards. If we would rely on loosely defined general standards that aren’t properly documented, then violations would become subjective and open to interpretation.
Is what nobody likes, specially when they come as a boomerang. Back directly to us. It is easy to take actions that in a short term we can benefit from, particularly if they bring consequences to others and not ourselves. The right policies are those that set clearly that as adults we will take responsibility for our actions. Call it karma, if we do good, we all receive the proper reward.
Building a great company has a lot to do with how people work together. Policies and practices can improve the way we all interact, while minimizing the personnel obstacles that often arise in today’s workplaces.
Tools address the question of how we support our people to be able to successfully meet our company expectations. What resources are available to them? A: The policy guide. It is available in the Wiki section of our company intranet. B: Also there is regular training in company policies and practices, coupled with simple, easy-to-use forms to guide them when dealing with particular issues. Our intranet wiki will soon feature also videos that everyone at the company should watch to know how to optimize their processes and be more effective. Also SCRUM methodology and CMMI training will be available on demand within the next weeks.