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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422

The Rules of YOUR Game

best practices are the rules of a game that you win

You know there are rules that apply to your business:

  • Laws and regulations
  • Contracts and agreements
  • Ethical standards

Breaking those rules leads to ugly consequences in the courts, the press, and the community.

But what happens when employees break your rules for the business, rules that cover things like:

  • Customer service and business development
  • Procedures that boost efficiency and maintain quality
  • Cooperation between departments and services
  • Quality assurance and service standards
  • Strategies that deliver a competitive advantage

The rules of your game are generally a combination of those externally mandated requirements, the standard conventions of your industry, and your own unique approach to the business, what distinguishes you from the competition. Put them all together, and the rules of your game are a description of how you want to do business -- how, as an ethical organization, and how, as a successful one in a competitive environment. They are how you make the most of your environment and resources (human, financial, natural, and so on) to be successful as an organization.

Breaking the Rules

Breaking the rules of your own game, then, works against your success. But most companies, and most employees, don't deliberately undermine their own culture and procedures. More often, people at different levels, locations, and functions in the organization have different beliefs about what they are doing, why they are doing it, and what is important.

Why don't they follow the rules?

  • They may be unaware of them. They simply haven't learned how things are supposed to be done.
  • They may think of the rules as "ideal", but not practical in many situations. Or they may not believe that some rules are important. (They could be right: put your energy into the ones that really count!)
  • They may be dealing with conflicting rules, incentives, and standards. That is, your rules may not work together. For instance, what about a company that requires "outstanding customer service" to be part of every contact . . . and also requires that the average customer call be handled in a very short time period?
  • "Do as I say, not as I do.". If management and their direct reports aren't all playing by the same rules, you can give up hoping that the front lines will make sense of all this.
  • They may not know how to follow the rules, or have the tools to do so. If they can't get the information they need, the support of other functions, or simply never acquired the skills and knowledge it takes to implement your business strategies, their best intentions won't be enough to fill the gap.

The "rules of the game", in the best run organizations, create a culture in which employees are more likely to do the right thing, even when there isn't a specific rule or procedure to cover a situation. It is a complex system that requires regular attention, and "quick fixes" aren't likely to create business success. (See my article on maintaining your "Communications Grid" for more on that.)

Learning from the Pros

If you want to learn how to get more people to play by the rules, that is, how to ensure that the majority of your employees know, embrace, and apply best practices, why not look at industries where "playing by the rules" is especially important? We tend to use the term "compliance" to refer to externally generated rules -- constraints created by legislation, regulatory agencies, and similar forces in the business environment.

There are many, many industries where some aspect of the business is regulated, including:

  • Banking, insurance, and many financial services
  • Manufacturing and transportation involving hazardous materials
  • Medical device manufacture and pharmaceutical companies
  • Don't forget "ordinary" businesses that handle hazardous materials or potentially polluting chemicals, such as the dry cleaning chain in your region that uses a variety of chemicals to clean your clothes.

In many of these situations, failure to comply with laws and regulations can lead to severe penalties, including having the government shut down the business. No wonder these industries invest a lot of effort in "compliance".

(For examples of how I've helped a regulated industry with compliance, see this set of case studies.)

Supporting Best Practices

In a nutshell, developing good rules for your game and getting employees to play by them is the definition of your business. Failure to follow your own business rules is just throwing away opportunities to be more successful, to build your business, to better serve your customers, to attract investors, to win in the marketplace.

This is a large, complex, full-time effort for every successful organization. If you're struggling to spread your best practices, to get everyone to play by the same rules, here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Prioritize. Don't try to fix every detail all at once. Focus on the basics, get everyone to support those, and then move on to the next level of detail.
  • Eliminate conflicting pressures, rules, incentives. Your employees are the best source of information about these. Find out where the rules of your game don't make sense, and make things consistent.
  • Remove obstacles and provide resources. Make sure people have the training and tools they need to be able to carry out your vision.
  • Take the long view. Changing people takes time, as does changing complex systems, and that includes your culture of rules, requirements, procedures and best practices.

© 2007 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

More "Think Pieces" | Training Tipsheet Reprints |Case Studies

Case Studies

Playing by the Rules

Think Pieces

Maintain Your "Communications Grid"