Any government rule or law without consistent enforcement and penalty is merely a suggestion. When I lived in Detroit, drivers on a certain section of freeway consistently went 10-15 miles per hour over the speed limit and at times considerably more. When traffic allowed you could cruise between 65 and 70 in a 55 mph zone without much concern of being stopped. Clearly the speed limit was more of a suggestion.
I worked with “Kim,” a business leader who complained of an administrative assistant who came in late 22 working days in a month. I told the manager that it was his fault. He needed to sit down with his administrative assistant and clarify that the work day began at 8 o’clock promptly. Kim needed to confess that the starting time had not been consistently enforced. He needed to tell them that in the future he expected each person to arrive on time. He could ask if there were any specific issues preventing on time arrival and discuss adjustments for special situations; however, the starting time needed to be consistent for all employees. When I grew up in Detroit, jaywalking downtown could result in a $1 ticket. When I was older nothing much happened if you crossed the street during the red light or in the center of street. For good or bad, the sanction had been removed.
My perspective about business is that policies, directives and procedures should be put in place for good reasons or not put in place at all. When these directives have been issued, failure to comply should result in facing meaningful sanctions. Clearly, firing somebody the first time they walk in three minutes late is not reasonable. The policy should call for warnings after a certain number of later arrivals, followed by suspension and possible termination. This gives a person a significant number of opportunities to amend their behavior.
A situation came to my attention where a sales person, “Mike,” had padded an expense account by charging lunches to the company that never occurred with customers and by selling complimentary sports tickets for cash rather than giving them to customers as documented. I participated in the discussion about what should be done. My perspective was pretty simple; Mike needed to be terminated promptly because theft, large or small, was intolerable. As soon as possible we met with Mike and gave him the opportunity to resign immediately or be discharged for cause. He chose to resign.
I believe that in situations of integrity and ethics no warnings need to be issued. If Mike’s actions could not been sanctioned with termination, what kind of message would it send to other employees when they heard the story? Probably that a little theft was okay.
Some sanctions may not require drastic actions. Take late work for example. When I have received late work, I confront the person and allow some discomfort to become the sanction. I don’t just say “It’s okay” or “It’s no big deal when something is late. I acknowledge lateness. I may even state how the delay caused problems for me. I allow the other person to feel some level of pain. I don’t do this just to make the person miserable; I do it so that it will not happen in the future. When staff members are consistently tardy, I include this on their annual performance reviews. The problem may have some effect regarding future compensation, another sanction.
King Solomon wrote, “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people's hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong.” (Ecclesiastes 8:11, NIV) Ultimately, failing to bring sanctions because of broken policy will bring about what happened in the book of Judges, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” (Judges 21:25, NIV) Reasonable enforcement of reasonable rules will avoid this in your business.
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