Paul Butler: What’s with all these rules?

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia (newleaftd.com). The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal newspaper. For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]
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I’m noticing three categories of people in their response to the directives we’ve all been given during this pandemic — those who follow the rules, those who partially follow the rules and those who blatantly ignore the rules.

In the county in which I live, we’ve been told we must wear face masks and socially distance when in public. By my calculation, I see about a third of people faithfully following the directives — I call these the Rule Followers. We then see about another third who seem to make a superficial and partial effort to comply with the county’s request. This second category of people sometimes wear a mask but most times don’t. They’ll socially distance with complete strangers but see no problem having friends over for drinks or to break bread with those they know. I call these the Selectors — they select what works for them.

The third category completely disregards the directives. These are the people who believe first principles include the freedom to ignore any reasonable request of anyone in authority. To them, the face mask is a joke and they’ll give anyone they want a hug or handshake, whether the other person wants it or not. I call these the Rebels.

The workplace magnifies the heart of human behavior, so it comes as no surprise to see these three types of people at work — be it onsite or online.

The Rule Followers come in two varieties — those who are an asset to the organization and those who are a liability. On the asset side of the equation are those employees who are a pleasure to have on board — they listen to instructions, they follow the guidelines and honor all the human resource requirements. They work hard within the parameters provided. Their focus is on what can be done.

Sadly, there are some who follow the rules so literally they become a liability to the organization. In their obedience they become obtrusive. Such people resist effort by relying on the restriction. Their focus is on what cannot be done.

It’s easy to spot the Selectors in the workplace as they’re the selfish people. Yes, they’ve heard of protocols, procedures and processes but they believe there’s always an exception for them and that absolutes do not always absolutely apply. Selectors understand the need for rules and are quite pleased they exist but believe rules should be malleable. They don’t see everything so black and white. At the heart of the issue is not an aching for creativity or innovation — but rather a self-centered way of seeing the world.

Selectors see deadlines as arbitrary. Selectors are often past due on their work. They’re always late to meetings and want to jump ahead and bounce around any agenda.

Rebels in the workplace come in two styles — the good and the bad. Good Rebels are those individuals or teams who kick against the status quo because they see stagnation and a need for change. Netflix did not rebel against Blockbuster — ridiculous late fees did. Uber did not rebel against the taxi business — limited access, poor attitudes and fare control did. Airbnb isn’t rebelling against the hotel industry — limited availability and price-fixing did. Amazon didn’t rebel against main street retailers — poor customer service and experience did.

Bad Rebels in the workplace can bring an organization down — their flagrant disregard of the rules can be devastating. Think back to the colorful characters who led companies such as Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing and Tyco International, to name just a few. Just as these Bad Rebels saw no need to follow generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), I couldn’t see them happily donning a facemask and abiding by 6 feet of separation.

I pray we wake up one day and this whole COVID situation was a one-off nightmare, but as sure as day follows night, I am convinced we will see the Rule Followers, the Selectors and the Rebels back at the benches, within the cubes and across the boardroom when we arise from this lockdown.

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