Dear Jayme,

No matter how many times I tell my employees to look and act a certain way, they don't. I know I don't do a great job following my own rules, but since it's my business, I think I ought to be able to do things the way I want. Why won't my employees just do as they're told?



Dear Kyle,

That would be because they're human. Yes, it's your business, and yes, you can do things any way you want. You can't, however, undo a law of nature, and that's what you're asking. A gazillion years of evolution makes us imitate the power figures around us because, historically, those are the ones who do tend to survive and don't tend to wander into the weeds and get eaten by a lion.

Children will copy their parents' behavior and employees will copy their boss' behavior no matter what those role models may say. Those of you who are parents may have some small understanding of this. To think you're going to go against this is unrealistic.

Your actions tell your employees what you really believe and value. If there's a discrepancy between your words and your actions, they will always, always, always copy your actions and ignore your mandates. You can preach all day that all the trucks and equipment cabs are to be cleaned out each night, but if your own truck is always a filthy mess, then filthy mess is obviously OK with you. You may rant, rave, fire and hire to your heart's content with no effect whatsoever (other than your own frustration and the employees' confusion).

So you have a choice: Is it more important to you to have a successful business or to prove to everybody that you can ignore the rules?

Some guidelines:

  • Accept the fact that "Do as I say, not as I do" is an absolutely hopeless management approach. Good employees won't hang around this environment, and the people who do remain will be perpetually confused and not very productive.
  • Be acutely aware of your actions and influence, that you set the example on how things are done and that your people are watching you every single minute to pick up on clues as to what you really believe and how they should act. This is a behavior that you are simply not going to change.
  • Understand that if your business procedures/rules are well-constructed, then they're the most efficient, profitable, sensible ways to do things anyway, and it'd be silly for you not to follow them, too.
  • A major power of ownership is being the one who writes the company rule book. Any adolescent bozo can exhibit his defiance of authority by ignoring the rules, but only the owner has the power to write them.

Being an owner means setting a solid example for your employees. You owe it to them and yourself to live up to your own rules, and if you have difficulty doing so, it's because your rules are in conflict with your true beliefs.

You can change the rules to match your beliefs, but don't tell your people to go into the weeds and expect them to do so if you're always hanging around the campfire.





Construction Business Owner, August 2008