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Which Rules Have to Be Obeyed? - Business Basics

Blocking a fire hydrant is against the law, in case that is not clear to anyone. As I was exiting our housing tract, I noticed that the owner of the house at the corner of the entrance had once again parked his large SUV (is that redundant?) in front the fire hydrant in front of his house. It is not possible for the truck to be there without either blocking the hydrant or blocking the driveway, both of which are against the law in this city.

I thought about calling the police to report this, since the truck is parked there at least once a week. Some weekends it is there for 3 days.  My first thought was that if the neighbors around them don't complain, why should I. My house is not at risk, theirs' are. However, too often we don't do things because we think, or hope, someone else will. That way we are not the snitch or inconvenienced by all of the hassle that goes with reporting a crime.

As I was about to call in this infraction, I noticed that I was going "above" the speed limit in remote stretch of road. It made me think about something I wrote in Chapter 2 of Maps for Modern Magellans: Charts for Captains of Commerce -"Mind Your Own Business" in which I use Kipling's 6 serving men to encourage a lot of questioning. One of the questions is: "What is Negotiable?"...

Different people have a different sense of what they will or will not compromise; in other words, the rules that they are more willing to bend and how far they will go. The "What is Negotiable Target" represents the range things open for discussion. Rules, laws, or behaviors at the center are unchangeable. We all cheat a little on speed laws. When people take greater liberties the question is then one of intent or disregard.

Did the people, or person, who approved the use of lead paint on toys do so intentionally? Was it just a rule that was not that important to keep? The workers who "soil" vegetables with human waste - are they careless or willfully endangering lives? The accountant who takes a little extra from clients - disregard or criminal conduct? Is it different?

Seth Godin recently wrote about a Home Depot center where they posted a sign - Saw not working - because they did not want to be bothered. It was not a lie. They did not say "Saw Broken" but it was still dishonest. Often our rationalization is based on a feeling that the rule is not important. Is that really true? Alternatively, is it a case of our feeling that we are more important and so we do not need to obey this particular rule?

This map makes for a very useful exercise: The center is where you place the 100% non-negotiable. Moving away from the center, you put those things that are increasingly negotiable. When you reach the edge, you are at the range of things that you not only do not care about, but things that are probably disregarded.

There will be subtle differences between the things that absolutely cannot be compromised and what can be compromised. Deciding what can and cannot be placed in the center, the most non-negotiable things, will say a lot about you and, if you use this in a corporate setting, what is important to the company.

Try this exercise with your family, team, new hires, and potential hires. The exact center is 100% non-negotiable and it will actually be fairly empty. The next ring is 75%, then 50%, then 25%, and the outside represents those things that are completely negotiable. Ask people where they would place various things such as rules, integrity, and so on. If their placement does not agree with your placement, there may be a problem to resolve. Someone who considers payroll taxes highly negotiable may not be the safest person to have as a CFO. Wearing a hard hat on a construction site might be negotiable to some but the liability issues should make that a 100% non-negotiable item.

Before we go about casting stones - it is a useful thing to check our moral compass. Jon M. Huntsman, a very successful entrepreneur, chairman and founder of Huntsman Corporation, and father of the current Governor of Utah, wrote a book, a very easy read: "Winners Never Cheat". In this book Huntsman describes how easy it is for little things to become big things. That the little violations we allow teach others that they can have bigger violations without penalty. Parents who abused drugs as teenagers have a hard time reprimanding their children for the same issue even though they now know how harmful they can be.

How far have we allowed behaviors to drift from the center?  Look at how many athletes want to excuse Michael Vick - "He's such a gifted man" Do we regularly reinforce the importance of rules in the workplace? Do we explain the reason for the rule and do we hold everyone to the same standard? If not, then that is the place to start.

What rules can be bent in your shop? 


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