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Principles, Precedents & Pragmatism

Three favourite business words that open up lots of discussion.

And so important in running the Accsys business, because they come up every single day, in one way or another.

Like many businesses, we built up a set of Policies and Procedures, trying to clearly define the principles by which we run our business.   Much as I loved the Nordstrom model (see below), we realised it was necessary.

Then once we started using them every day, we recognised that they were simply guidelines, needed constant updating and were almost impossible to seamlessly implement.

We found that almost everybody believes that the rules are for other people and their circumstances are the exception that proves the rule.

In South Africa, the Family Responsibility rule is very clear, and yet we are constantly asked to expand the rule.  We recently had one staff member ask to take 10 years of Family Responsibility in one as he had never used it before.  When HR pointed out that would be setting rather a significant precedent, he became extremely unpleasant.   Of course, he was one of those who used sick leave as a target….

Our conversations around precedents, principles and pragmatism are usually quite intense, with a fair amount of disagreement.   However, we have come to the conclusion that while we need to stick to our ethical principles, the business has to come first.  

 For example if, as a matter of principle, we don’t want to work with a particular supplier or rehire a former employee, but it makes business sense, we need to make the pragmatic decision and ensure we have laid down firm ground rules formally.

Forecasting the Future
We also try and look at all possible future results of setting a precedent.  Scenario planning 101.  Then we go ahead, and find there was at least one outcome we hadn’t thought of.   So now we are pragmatic about that, too, and have made it clear to all that just because we do something a particular way once, we do not need to do it the same way a second time, if it damages the business or if it doesn’t make sense, any more.

Adult to Adult
It is challenging to explain that the decision you made 5 years ago was pragmatic, and yes, it might look like a precedent was set, but the circumstances were unusual, and your principles weren’t compromised, then, but you still aren’t prepared to make the same decision now!!!!!

This is when adult to adult conversations need to take place in a really calm way.   Maybe compromises can be reached, but it is critical to business success that you are not forced to repeat mistakes because some time in the past a precedent was set…..

Nordstrom Model
This is the model to which all companies should aspire, in my opinion, however even Nordstrom has moved to more rules!
Welcome to Nordstrom
We’re glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.
Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.
Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.

Links and References
twitter:   @TerylSchroenn

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