Ditch the rulebook!

I just finished reading Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin and found myself intrigued by her descriptions of complex rules at animal handling facilities that specified how every little procedure should take place but that failed to actually safeguard the animals. In response, she devised a simple set of ten rules with very simple metrics that described how animal welfare should be measured. One example specifies that no more than a certain (small) percentage of animals may trip or fall anywhere in the facility. How facilities comply with the rule is entirely up to them. They are either in compliance or not. There is no ambiguity whatsoever.

What can we as businesspeople learn from this example and countless others? It's simple: Ditch your rulebook! Do you really care whether your employees are complying with Rule 125, Section 3, Subsection A, Paragraph 2? Or do you care about providing the best possible products and services to your customers? If the former, why? Are your employees that incapable of thinking for themselves? If so, what does that say about your hiring skills? Or is this a control issue? If so, then what exactly are you afraid of and why? If your ultimate concern really is happy customers then how exactly does having voluminous rules further this goal?

Yes, you do need to establish and maintain a marketing process that obtains and retains customers. Yes, you must make sure to have standards and metrics in place. You absolutely must know what is happening in your business and be an active leader and mentor. None of this requires complicated rules. For example, a tailor at a well-known clothing store once dispatched himself to a customer's home to perform an emergency alteration on a new suit jacket because the customer was leaving on a business trip. There are three possible scenarios for this:


162; The tailor broke a bunch of rules. I kind of doubt this because no customer is worth risking one's job over.


162; The customer happened to fit into some existing guidelines under which the tailor could leave the store. I find this highly suspect at best. Rules are designed to restrict actions, limit choices, and stifle creativity. There is no way that any business sagging under the weight of its own bureaucracy has enough innovation to think of something like this, much less plan for it.


162; The store has a simple rule that says something to the effect of "Provide excellent customer service." How that service is provided is up to the employee within the bounds of reason. The employee acted in accordance with that rule. That customer, Jay Conrad Levinson, on to tell many thousands of people about that experience and has always mentioned that store by name. You just can't buy that kind of goodwill and publicity.

Chances are excellent that you and your employees are decent honest people of at least average intelligence. Most people have an innate drive to please that they will exercise whenever someone gives them half a chance to do it. Your employees are living breathing people just like you and deserve as much latitude as possible to use their brains and creativity. Tell them what the goals are and then step back and let them achieve those goals and then surpass them.

Your employees will be that much happier and less likely to quit on you, thus saving many thousands of dollars in turnover costs. Your customers will be that much happier and that much more likely to recommend your business to their friends. You will have a lot fewer headaches, lower blood pressure, and a whole bunch more free time on your hands.

You will also save yourself the costs associated with complying with all of those needless rules. For example, a doctor friend of mine recently estimated that he spends 30% of his time practicing what he calls "defensive medicine," or complying with regulations that serve to waste time while not improving the quality of care whatsoever. Multiply tens of thousands of dollars in salary by the number of doctors in that organization and the numbers get pretty staggering pretty quickly.

I am absolutely not suggesting that you should in any way disregard, circumvent, or avoid any laws or regulations that affect your business. I am saying that you should have as few of your own rules as possible.

Ditch the rulebook. You'll be glad you did.

Learn how ancient survival instincts guide everything you do and how to use those instincts to your advantage. My books, The Enlightened Savage: Using Primal Instincts for Personal and Business Success and Guerrilla Marketing Success Secrets are available from and , respectively, or from your favorite bookseller.

Coming soon: The Natural Savage (Winter 2007) and More Guerrilla Marketing Success Secrets (Fall 2007).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anthony Hernandez is a Certified Guerrilla Marketing Association Business Coach with over 20 years of business and marketing experience. He lives in Ashland with his wife Robyn, son Logan, and their two dogs.

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