9th January 2014

A Few Simple Rules Repeated Often by Ian Kinnery

I read somewhere recently about someone who was encouraged at a parenting class to “establish a few simple rules, and be prepared to repeat them often”. This is advice which any business leader would be encouraged to take on board when thinking about leadership and their leadership style.

I wonder how many of us have established a few simple rules and been prepared to repeat them a lot in our businesses.

Most of the businesses that I have ever been involved with would have failed this simple test. As a team member, it may be that I thought I knew the rules, but they were never written down, they were never explicit, they were never tested or examined or even spoken about. Therefore it is highly likely that the rules that I assumed, were somewhat different to the rules that my colleagues had assumed, if indeed they ever had.

It would be easy to test this in your organisation. Just ask a number of colleagues “what are the handful of rules that we, as an organisation, or group of colleagues live by?” If you get a precise and common answer, then congratulations are well deserved, but I bet few of us do.

The chances are most of our colleagues are playing to slightly or widely differing rules than we are.

I remember as I was growing up there was one rule which I recall above all others and that was around telling lies. My sister and I were constantly being told that telling lies was not acceptable behaviour. This was a difficult constraint for a younger brother who was always spoofing and being spoofed by his elder sister. We even had a “safeword” that we could turn to when the teasing got too much. I don’t know what was going to happen if we ever said “honest” when we were kidding, but I never did, and I still cannot, lie, pretend or spoof and apply the word “honest”. It was a rule. It was then and still is as far as I am concerned.

That simple rule which was repeated often, I now realise, has conditioned me throughout my life and, when I reflect, it is something for which I am extremely grateful. It made sense for a young family. It kept me honest as a child and honesty is still one of the things that I pride myself on and value most among the people I meet.

Would a few simple rules repeated often not also make sense for a group of people who work together? Is it any surprise that working teams are often so dysfunctional if they have never agreed the values that are most important to them?

Eliciting our core values and the behaviours that they represent is a relatively simple thing to do. Have you spelled yours out yet?