Just Not With Their Ears

The following post is written by one of my mentors Sarah Gutek, a former Human Resources Executive. It’s a delight to have her contribute to The People Equation.

Does this scenario sound somewhat familiar?  You’re getting ready to go into a staff meeting when Esther from accounting reminds you to make a big point to your sales team about getting their expense reports to her by the third Friday of the month.  This is the fourth time you’ve had to remind your team of the expense reporting standard.  Apparently many are ignoring the standard. You wonder….aren’t they listening?

As anyone who has ever been a supervisor or manager knows, there are lots of nuances to the art of managing people.  Theory would say that if a standard is set out very clearly and it’s reasonable, you should expect employees to follow it. However, employees are very quick to pick up on discrepancies between the “official” standard and the actual standard.  No matter how often you verbalize it or how often you put it in writing, the standard is not what you say it is, the standard is what you accept.  If Esther in accounting accepts late reports, and expenses are still paid on time, well, then that’s the standard.  

As VP of Human Resources, I found the “Waterloo” of all standards had to be trying to establish and enforce a dress code policy. I sent out dress code memos with seemingly fail-proof examples: pictures of appropriate and inappropriate outfits, and exact guidelines of acceptable skirt and pant lengths.  As you can imagine, it was difficult to be all-inclusive — especially when it came to women’s fashions.   It even got to the point that I found myself crafting a memo stating that, if one’s underwear was showing when seated, one was not dressed appropriately for work. “Good grief!” I thought. “How can anyone reasonably think that visible undergarments in the office is part of the standard?” Clearly this is one instance where no matter what the dress standard states, the real standard is what the supervisor will accept.

It’s important to have standards. The lesson for supervisors  is: be sure that you’re willing and able to enforce the standard in an appropriate and effective way — because your employees ARE listening …. just not with their ears.

Guest post bio:

Sarah Gutek, EdD., is a former Vice President of Human Resources for a national financial services firm. Sarah currently consults to executives on strategies for developing high-potential employees. She is thankful that she no longer has to enforce employee dress codes— written or otherwise.


photo credit: istockphoto.com © Alex Slobodkin

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