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If your behaviour is right, you don’t need rules

13 October 2014  

At work we are all adults and most of us are content to behave responsibly when not beset by petty bureaucracy, blogs John Bowen

In the days when I ran FM operations one of my concerns was that we should not move into jobsworth territory. This can sometimes be hard to avoid because FM is often placed in the role of enforcing corporate policy, and this is a grey area where right and wrong meet the rules.

In organisational terms the rules that are devised are effectively law within that body; break them and there are sanctions, but these rules are often a hard sell to those to whom they apply. Take the compulsory wearing of photo ID, car parking, smoking, food and drink at the desk and similar policies.

All of these things should be for line management to enforce, but how often do you find weak managers blaming others? Certainly I’ve had enough of that behaviour to counter over the years and it has made life harder than it needed to be for my teams.

My approach has always been to try to fight any attempt to introduce rules that are not enforceable and anything that seems just dumb. That isn’t to say that I have shied away from tough decisions; closing a lunchtime bar was a case in point, as was introducing a smoking ban several years before the law of land caught up, but I had no doubt about both of those decisions being right.

But in many cases it has been possible to influence behaviour and change things without any need for rules. At one of the sites I took over there were a lot of issues over office waste and general housekeeping. In short, the place was a tip and HR had put all sorts of signs up threatening dire consequences for offenders, but nothing worked; they would have shut the place down if they had carried out the threats for they would have sacked almost everyone.

The FM team was taking most of the flak and so we took down all of the signs and just began to tidy up as we went around the site. I had a packet of bin bags in my office and would grab one whenever I went out of my room to collect stuff in. We didn’t say anything, we just tidied and it took about three months, but the place just transformed because everyone took it on board.

Much of leadership stems from common sense and the better leaders don’t need too many rules. Positive peer pressure is so much more effective.

John Bowen is an FM consultant