What You Tolerate Becomes The Standard

Your Policies And Procedures Are Worthless If You Do Not Enforce Them.

By Steve Schumacher

One of the companies I worked with was putting an extra emphasis on safety at the plants. Everyone from the senior executives to the plant managers was behind the initiative and seemingly walked the talk. As an outsider, I was always reminded to wear my personal protective equipment (PPE) and go through site-specific safety training whenever I visited a new plant.

My perception was that everyone had bought in to the safety push and that the company would end up making some major improvements in their safety record.

When I was touring one of the plants with a plant manager, I noticed some rags stuck in holes in some of the machinery, duct tape used in various locations, and some other fairly obvious things that seemed to be unsafe.

When I was alone with some of the equipment operators, I asked them about the things I observed. I got various responses as to why those unsafe items were there. Generally, the responses had a common theme: “Oh, that is no big deal. We will fix that when we get some time.”

That experience, coupled with others like it over the years, validated what I have always felt about company policies, initiatives and rules – if you tolerate anything less, what you tolerate becomes the standard of behavior that is acceptable.

A lot of companies will, in good faith and with grand intent, develop policies and procedure manuals that they expect employees to follow. However, in the complex world of aggregates and mining, a good number of people feel the need to take shortcuts or workarounds. If that sort of behavior is not confronted and dealt with, people will continue to follow what works best for them, regardless of the policy.

If you feel like some of your policies and procedures are not being adhered to as closely as you would like, there are some things you can do to get everyone back on track:

Evaluate your policies and procedures. Take a look at all of the rules and processes you have put in place. Do they reflect the reality of today? I have seen a lot of policies that were written a long time ago and are clearly outdated. Get actively involved in this assessment process.

Do not shuffle it off to HR or some corporate function. Get some hourly folks involved so they take ownership for the rules that affect them.

Grandfather everyone in. Make it clear that past transgressions are a free pass. Once you ensure that your policies are what you want and need, the clock starts ticking again. Let everyone know that, from now on, working outside of what you expect will not be tolerated and will result in some sort of redirection or discipline.

Over-communicate this, as a lot of people will have developed habits over time that cannot be changed overnight.

Train everyone. If your policies and procedures were outdated and you refreshed them, people will need to learn the new requirements and get feedback on whether or not they are doing them correctly. Do not assume anything.

Even the most veteran employees may need some coaching on how to do things the proper way. A Back to Basics training program may be in order. In addition, you may have some fairly new employees that learned the shortcuts and not the company endorsed way.

Model the behavior you expect. We have all experience managers who tell employees to do something a certain way, and then do it differently themselves.

That completely undermines the policies and procedures that you are trying to get compliance with. Your people watch you very closely, so make sure you are walking the talk.

Monitor adherence. Set up regular monitoring processes to ensure that all employees are doing what is asked with policies and procedures. Get hourly employees involved in policing themselves and co-workers. Keep in mind that we are human beings and sometimes take the path of least resistance.

That path might be a shortcut that does not support your policies and procedures. Do not expect a single pronouncement to get people to change their behavior, regular monitoring is vital.

Company and plant policies and procedures are in place for a reason. If the reason they were initially put in place is no longer valid, change them. If the reasons continue to be valid, it is up to you to communicate, model and monitor the way things should be.

Feeding the Family Business

Henry Hutcheson, a certified Family Business Advisor and founder of Family Business USA consultancy, offer this advice to family businesses.

Keep the lines of communication open. Schedule regular family meetings to discuss issues of concern and topics such as business transition, business performance, and responsibilities. Include all of the family members, no matter where in the hierarchy their jobs fall – exclusion creates animosity. Create a family manual that lays out the ground rules for how the meetings will take place to ensure everyone gets a chance to be heard and impediments to communication are left at the door.

Assign clear roles and responsibilities. As a family member, it’s natural to feel that everything is “my” business. However, not everything is every family member’s responsibility. Job definitions prevent everyone from jumping in to tackle the same problem, and help ensure the business runs smoothly.

Keep good financial data. The downfall of many small businesses and family businesses is not having solid data. Have a single point of contact to manage the finances. If you’re small enough, you can rely on a family member. Otherwise, you’ll need to bring in a qualified accountant. You may cringe at the cost for this, but the difference between a good accountant and a bad one is the difference between knowing exactly where you are on the road and trying to drive with a mud-covered windshield.

Avoid overpaying family members. Market-based compensation is fundamental and essential. Parents in family businesses tend to overpay the next generation, or pay everyone equally despite differing levels of responsibility. Both are bad practices. The longer unfair compensation practices continue, the messier it will be to clean up when it blows up.

Don’t hire relatives if they’re unqualified. Competence is key. Family businesses are a conundrum: The family aspect generates unqualified love, while the business side cares about profits. Thus, family members will be hired to provide them with a job, even though they’re not qualified. The remedy is to get them trained, move them to a role that matches their skills, or have them leave.

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