December 7, 2009

The Fine Art of Managing Exceptions

It’s vital for any manager to create a disciplined approach to the way they manage their team.

Discipline enables a focused approach with employees and the deliverables that are their required goals.

Team and individual discipline includes a number of rules and protocols by which every member of the team knows what is and isn’t acceptable. This is good for everyone, because each knows where they stand.

With the rules of the team being understood by all, this can be very freeing, actually enabling much more creative work, because the boundaries of acceptability are clear.

So, with all this in mind, what happens when someone on the team wants to behave in a manner which is normally beyond the agreed way of working? What does a manager do when what one of the team feels is quite acceptable as an exception to the rule?

In fact this can be the ace up a manager’s sleeve in how they build the team and it requires a secondary set of ‘unwritten’ rules that allow for exceptions. The key to this is that these unwritten rules are applied absolutely equally amongst the team.

Let’s say you are a retailer with a peak of business at Christmas. The written rule is that no-one has any vacation in the month of December. That’s a reasonable expectation for any employees who choose to work in that sector.

But what happens when a member of your team has a personal reason for asking for the rule to be overridden? What happens if their daughter wants to get married in the Caribbean on Christmas Day, with a few days beforehand to prepare for celebrations too? Is that permissible or not?

In these situations, smart managers allow an occasional exception to the rule in special, one-off circumstances, to show they care and understand what’s so important to their people. In fact it’s common sense, because any parent is going to attend whatever their employers says, so to lose a valued team member because they ask you to bend a rule is simply illogical.

Much better in such circumstances to allow it to happen, with strict controls and also with a strict management of any other people who choose to test this ‘rule’. After all, you could not manage the business if everyone chose to ask the same year.

That is, of course, quite unlikely, so where common sense prevails and you wave them of wishing them a great time, you will do much to create goodwill.

Of course, the rule within a rule needs to apply to everyone and needs to be seen as such.

But to deny your people reasonable, if exceptional occasions in their work environment is most likely a battle that will not see the organization as a winner, especially if those rules are not flexible enough to allow exceptions.

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Filed under Blog, Developing Your People, Managing Me by Martin

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