HR professor

Managing Employees with Flexible Rules

Observe any organization and you will find that each organization has a diverse workforce. It makes all kinds of employees to create an organization. To be a good manager, you need to understand the diversity of your workforce. If you acknowledge that all employees are not the same, and adopt flexibility in policies, you will find that rules motivate people for higher performance.

Different Strokes for Different Folks
Managing employees within a rigid framework of rules brings about friction. Organizations create rules to even out work inefficiencies. When rules are laid and blindly followed, problems can brew within the organization.

Managing Employees with Rigid Rules: A Case Study
One organization I knew was in the process of expansion. Recruitment figures were bulging and manpower needs were urgent. Hence, the management decided to multi-task certain staff functions and high performance employees were to be put on a 'fast track' management training program. This rule was applied for every function within the organization. Some employees found it difficult to cope with the new organizational challenges. They found themselves ill-equipped to handle more responsibilities. Soon chaos reigned. Work pressure mounted and many employees quit the company. This outcome significantly affected the recruitment process.

One could argue that multi-tasking was a bad idea. Or that management should have provided adequate training to the 'slow learners.' But the essence of the problem lies in the application of the blanket-rule. There was no effort made by the management to understand that people differ from each other. Hence, what looks like a brilliant opportunity to one employee, looks like an unwanted challenge to another. The only way to convert a pessimistic employee is by empathizing with his/her situation and trying to work out a feasible solution within the given constraints. It would require an extra effort from the manager to ease out the work pressure and encourage participation of the disgruntled employees.

Managing Employees with Flexibility
Generally speaking, people share common interests, ideologies, principles, and practices. When rules adhere to generic issues, managing employees becomes easy. To an extent, it is important to have standard rules to bring everybody under the same corporate philosophy. However, each individual has unique background, habits, talents, and preferences. Managing employees with a uniform rule that brushes aside individual requirements is not desirable. Rigid rules fail to recognize unique qualities of people. The outcome of a 'blanket rule' would be: conservative thinking, stagnant creativity, and lower employee morale.

Principles are just that -- principles. They serve as a guiding force to streamline and equalize operations. However, if rules cannot be bent at all, they become unbearable. More importantly, when people become mere puppets of the organization, managers cannot tap the vast potential hidden within employees. Remember, a sturdy tree cannot withstand a strong wind; but a blade of grass can.

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