2 Reasons Why We Have Rules – #2: Trust

by Kevin Jones on June 17, 2011

(Crossposted on vinjones.com)

The shoe laces on my shoes just broke.  I bought the shoes two months ago, so they should have been fine.  When I finally found the time, I went into Kohl’s where I bought them and was looking around for shoe laces, thinking they might give me an extra pair.  I asked an associate and they said they don’t carry laces.  But they would just trade shoes – no questions asked.  I was amazed.  So, I found another pair and exchanged them.  Easy.

Kohl’s trusted me that I, as a consumer would make the right decision and not abuse the system.  Guess where I am going back next time.  A similar circumstance happened at Costco.  I will go back to these two stores forever because of the trust they place in their customer.  And because of their trust they will have this family of 10 visiting their store.

Why do we make rules? In this video I talk about consistency.  But very often it is because we lack trust.  Take a look at any person or organization and often you can tell how much they trust the people they serve by the number of rules they make.  A jail has MANY rules – and probably for a good reason.  But what about our workplaces?  Do they need to be filled with so many rules?

I often hear people complaining about the rules, trying to find ways around them and, in general, being less productive – the very opposite of why the rule was made in the first place.

What would happen if we trusted more? Would we get burned or would we realize that there are hidden benefits to trust?  I bet on the latter.


Why do we make rules?  When I talk about rules I mean laws, company policies or procedures, sports rules, chore charts for our kids or anything like it.

First, you have to have a goal.  Unless you have a goal there are no need for rules.  You can do whatever you want and get whatever result you get!  Just ask the Cheshire Cat.

But let’s assume we do have a goal – we make rules based off of two factors: trust and consistency.  This video, is about Trust.

(TRUST) Why do we put up railings on balconies?  It’s because we don’t trust that someone won’t accidentally look too far over the edge.

Every day we make trust judgements.  And it’s only natural to have few rules for those we trust, and more rules for those we don’t.  While it’s important we make these judgements, sometimes we can get a little carried away.

I saw an email recently where a company reminded its knowledge worker employees that they were not allowed to come in to work late, leave early nor take unplanned time off unless it was previously approved by a manager.  If they didn’t follow the rules, they may face company discipline, up to and including dismissal.

There is a big contradiction in life here – For 12 years up through high school we were reprimanded if we were late or left early or didn’t show up for class.  Then in college we were told we are an adult and could do whatever we wanted to.  But now that we are in the work force, we go back to grade school rules.  Why is that?

Guidelines like these are important if they are working a shift and production depended upon them.  I get that.  But most people are knowledge workers now.  The models are really very different.

But it isn’t just an 8-5 work time issue.  It’s also applies to sick and vacation time, internet policies, lunch breaks, social media restrictions and a host of other company policies.

I once worked at a company which gave everyone three weeks of vacation, but we were the only ones who would keep track of it.  And we could come in when we wanted to and leave when we wanted to.  If we wanted to watch a movie in the middle of the day, go for it.  As long as the work gets done and we worked hard – that’s what matters.

Although we never turned in our daily hours, sick or vacation days, I didn’t know anyone who took advantage it.  Simply put, they didn’t abuse the system.  In fact, I haven’t worked with a group who worked harder.

On the other hand, with all the restrictions in some companies, I hear employees often wasting time trying to find ways to get around or stretch the rules or complaining about them.  In the end, this makes them less productive – the very opposite of what all those rules are trying to accomplish.

Without the right level of trust from employers, employees often hold back and don’t give their all.  But, it goes the other way, too.  Employees need to give a healthy level of trust their employers.  There must be a good balance between the two.

Wisely letting go is actually liberating.  If you make too many rules with your kids, for example, you wind up spending all your time as an enforcer rather than actually enjoying them.

My philosophy?  Stop wasting time and making rules that, in the end, really don’t matter.  This allows you to give your attention to the things that are most important.  Trust your employees, focus on what will make you successful and let the small stuff take care of itself.

Will they make mistakes.  Sure, just like you do, I do, we all do.  In fact we need to give them that latitude and be OK with it.  What they do next will show their trustworthiness.

And if they’re not trustworthy, they need to leave.  But that also means you need to trust.  It initially might be a scary thing to do, but I bet you’ll find that on many levels, the payback is huge.

I once heard a story of a newlywed couple going to marriage counseling. He complained that she didn’t trust him with the other women in the office.  After a little probing the councilor discovered this was his second marriage, she used to be his secretary and she had good reason to not trust him.  Ouch.

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  • http://gearboxmagazine.com Brian Driggs

    Trust is the foundation of success. Rules are a distraction. Rather than focus on what needs to – or should – be done, time is wasted as people look to find (and close) loopholes.

    Whereas trust enables the sort of risk-taking that leads to innovation, rules imply a lack of trust, double standards, and division. Simply put, those who cannot trust, cannot be trusted.

    It’s a shame, as much as we all agree trust is so important, we don’t see more of it in business.

  • http://engagedlearning.net Kevin D. Jones

    You nailed it – I fully agree.  It is a shame we don’t trust more.  Taking that step of actually trusting as much as needed is a difficult one – one that most people shy away from so they can feel secure.

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