Rules of the Road

By Tom Searcy

It often seems that people don’t understand basic professional protocols and courtesies in doing their jobs. About 25 years ago, when I first began working with people underneath me, I wrote out my Rules of the Road to capture what I assumed everyone should have known without being told.

I reviewed a copy of this document with all team members on their first day of work. It has gone through various iterations, but in general, I have used some form of it ever since and have found it to be a great way of opening up the expectations conversation. (This is ever-evolving, so let me know what you would add … )

Rules of the Road

1. This job is Fun. Seriously. Part of what makes work rich is that it is fun. So, it is everyone’s responsibility to contribute to that. Courtesy, spontaneity and laughter are lubricants to the work world. Apply liberally.

2. Aperture of Perception. All of what our clients know and understand about us is extrapolated from a very small amount of data: our e-mails, conversations, phone calls, the condition of our lobby, office, boardroom, and a variety of other data points and interactions create their entire understanding of who we are. A couple of key points that must be managed:

Check, check, check: The meeting. Your last e-mail. The appointment scheduled for tomorrow. The report you sent. And so on. Check on the receipt of what you have sent; confirm the appointment in advance; pre-call on assignments to make sure there are no misunderstandings.

1,000 details: Everything is important when it is client-facing or public-facing. Make certain you have triple-checked everything before it goes out.

Cheery disposition: If you were ever in a high school play, you know that the craziness that goes on behind the curtain and what the audience sees are two very different things. Our stress and activities are not theirs to worry about. That’s behind the curtain; to the audience it is all good.

3. No Surprises. Good news or bad news — especially bad news — I need to be the first to know. I will do my best not to shoot the messenger. Regardless, we cannot let other departments, vendors or clients surprise us with issues or concerns.

4. Close the Daily Loop. Simple rule: check in and out with your direct report every day. This is not about your daily schedule; it’s about issues and priorities. If they’re in a meeting, send a quick e-mail asking if there’s anything he or she needs from you today. Or ask, “Is there anything you need before I go?” In the end, you are managing issues and priorities.

5. Busy Business is the Norm. We’re always busy, it’s true. There really isn’t a let-up — and that’s good news. So, you can stop waiting for it to slow down — it won’t. What that means for us is that we will never run out of work; we’ll just have choices to make on priorities and resource assignments. The measure of our success will not be an “empty to-do list,” but rather, a list of completed “A” and “B” priorities.

6. Hierarchy. Everyone wants to understand the pecking order. These three should not be in conflict. If they are in conflict at any time, come and see me and let’s sort them out.

  • Me
  • Company
  • Client

7. Initiative. All day we have choices to make. You see someone walk into the lobby and the receptionist is away from her desk — do you help the guest or do you continue walking? There is a piece of paper on the warehouse floor — do you pick it up or do you let someone else handle it? At a much higher level, you know the right thing to do on a business issue even though you haven’t gotten the answer from your boss — do you do it? Or do you wait until you get permission? I value initiative. Action over inaction. Speed over perfection.

8. Praise and Celebration. I have a confession to make: I get wrapped up in the day to day and sometimes miss the opportunity to tell people how much I appreciate what they’re doing. We clearly do not celebrate your successes nearly enough. I’m asking for your help. When you need praise, you may need to ask me for it. That’s not the way it should be, but I’m telling you today that I really want you to know that what you’re doing is great and I want to recognize that. I also want us to be celebrating our great successes when they happen. So part of your role on the team is to bring me opportunities for praise and celebration.

9. Trouble, Problems and Issues. “Calamity comes to us not on the hooves of elephants, but in the fluttering of doves.” Rarely do we have big problems that didn’t start out as small problems that we ignored. We have to focus on the little things because they are the harbingers of real trouble. I want to know about the little problems. Not to solve them for you — I love your initiative and trust your judgment. I want to keep myself current on issues, so that if patterns emerge, we can take action together.

10. Communication. I have never been in a company where people felt that there was enough of this magical stuff. My comments are different than the need for it. I want to address:

Availability / Access: Ours is a business that operates outside the normal eight-hour workday. That’s why we pay for cell phones and provide laptops — we want to ensure we are accessible and that communication is available. We will all be respectful of each other and will limit this access to important issues and short transactions.

E-mail / Voicemail: These two methods are best for transactions and logistics. If you have an issue that’s emotional, accusational or sensitive, you will need to use either a phone or face-to-face setting to resolve it. E-mail and voicemail have a nasty track record of traveling to parties not meant to see them. Also, they can be edited and your communication can be taken out of context. Play it safe: stick to the facts, and communicate only transactional needs by e-mail and voicemail.

11. Disagree, Agreeably.

12. Hours. I don’t really watch your hours. Sometimes you will work five hours and have to leave to handle personal issues, sometimes you will work several hours overtime (probably a lot more of the time). We’ll manage this back and forth together. What’s most important is the coverage of your responsibilities in this flexible world — responsibilities that you must manage. A lack of coverage is unacceptable.

13. Getting Things Done. There are two acceptable ways in which to handle a commitment to an assignment: finish it on time or re-negotiate the deadline in advance. Coming to me the day it’s due to renegotiate is not acceptable. Also, when you look at your work, know that I am looking at your work for the 10 percent extra that I wasn’t expecting. It should become your signature.

14. Workload. You have more work than you can handle. That won’t change. Workload is an issue of priority rather than volume. I have no idea how much work you have — I don’t even remember the last project I assigned to you. So, if you start to get buried beyond what you can accomplish, come to me and let’s work through priorities and resources. (Tip: read “4-Hour Workweek.”)

15. How We Fit. Mentally, physically, spiritually. Sometimes you’re the strategic visionary in the meeting. At other times, you are another person on the end of the table lifting to help move it from one room to another. Sometimes you are a shoulder to cry on during a tough moment. We hired an integrated human being who is strong enough to participate in envisioning a great future; who is humble enough to do the physical and menial tasks of people living in the same building; and someone who is emotionally connected enough to support the people around you.

16. Informal vs. Formal. I like an informal and personal environment in the workplace, until I don’t. Let me explain: first-name basis, jokes, and casual coffee all work for me. When it’s business time, take my lead and kick into business mode. When we are with clients, I may be less formal with the client for a number of possible reasons. Take your cue and be one degree more formal than me.

17. Cover Each Other’s Backs. I make this commitment to you: in front of your subordinates and peers, our clients and executive management, I will refer only to your successes, strengths and value. Very rarely will it happen that I will discuss with executive management anything negative about you. I expect the same from you in regards to your peers, our company, our clients, our executive management, and myself.

The founder and CEO of Hunt Big Sales, Tom Searcy is the foremost expert in large account selling and has made a career out of doing big deals and creating explosive growth. Read more about Tom here.
Originally published: Feb 20, 2012

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *