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Three Sacred Rules for Every Manager

One of the classes that I teach is PHIL 305 Business Ethics, and each semester that I teach this class, I try to take at least one session to discuss three sacred and essential principles for good management.

I use the word sacred in discussing the principles of good management because it is a religious word which means hollowed, venerated, revered, and treated with reverence and respect. In the business world these three management principles should be held and treated with the same reverence and respect as sacred rituals would be in any religion.

Another word I include with sacred is essential. The three management principles when applied correctly and when held in sacred trust are essential to giving the company and the manager the greatest opportunity to be successful.

In this blog, I am going to briefly cover the three sacred and essential principles with the young manager in mind. Partly because most of my students are young and learning how to become managers. And the other part is that experienced middle to upper managers should already have these principles as part of their management strategy. In my opinion, if they haven’t learned or applied these three principles they normally don’t make it to manager level, or if they do, they don’t stay in the position for long; if the company is worth its salt.

There are exceptions, of course, and that is part of the reason that companies don’t make it or lose market share and/or influence. However, an examination of why this occurs in some company cultures will have to be a topic for another blog. So here are the three sacred and essential principles for good management:

Never place the company in a position of possible litigation.

The first and foremost sacred and essential principle for any manager to keep in mind as he or she makes decisions for the company is to never place the company in a position of possible litigation.

Every decision that is made should be placed up against this first principle. When considering your decisions and hiring practices you may want to ask a couple of key questions that will help you in deciding if a certain decision is the best decision to make. First, does this decision support the mission and vision of the company? Second, does this decision follow the core values of the company?

Gwen Moran in her article Five Problem Employees and What You Can Do About Them, published by Entrepreneur.com, gives this as one scenario, “Randy Cohen, 46, thought he had hired a new employee who fit the energetic, open culture of his Austin, Texas, ticket brokerage, TicketCity. But soon the employee routinely ignored policy and procedures. Cohen found himself constantly correcting the young salesperson’s behavior so that he didn’t alienate customers. “He made the company a bunch of money, but he was a pain,” says Cohen. Over the past 21 years, Cohen says he’s had other employees who’ve bucked the rules, including drinking on the job.

Cohen now has a policy of “firing fast” when he finds an employee who isn’t willing to follow rules. Legally speaking, an employee who engages in reckless behavior, such as driving dangerously or drinking on the job, can leave the employer liable for the actions within the “course and scope of employment.” So, if you learn that an employee is behaving in a way that could put others at risk, immediately investigate the situation and impose discipline, if appropriate, Guerin says.” [Bold is my emphasis] (http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/220132)

As one CEO, whom I know well, often tells his management team, “think about each action with your employees as if that action will come back to bite you.”

It’s like the old saying about those who ride motorcycles. There are only two kinds of motorcycle riders; the ones that haven’t gone down but are going to go down and the ones that have been down. This is why you wear all the important gear because you know if you haven’t been down; the odds are you will at some time in the future.

To many of my students this philosophy sounds very cynical, but it is the very reason you wear the proper gear when you ride. Maybe you will be the golden one, and nothing will “go down” or “bite you” but you’re responsibly as a manager is not to be golden, but to be smart enough to protect the company.

It’s great that Cohen implemented a new policy; however, he also needed to make sure that he documented each and every time he corrected the employee because the reality is; if you’re in business long enough you will find yourself facing some type of litigation.

Document, document, document.

If the company does go to litigation make sure you have placed the company in the best possible position to win. Even with the best decision, you can still end up in court. But as I said before, it is the manager’s responsibility to protect the company. This begins with one of the most time consuming procedures that a manger can perform, hence they often skip it.

Documenting what took place is one of the most sacred and essential services the manager can perform. However, because it is often seen as a pain and a distraction taking away from the real work to be done it is one of the first responsibilities to be neglected. Often, even if not neglected it is halfheartedly done, particularly when dealing with an employee either through a disciplinary actions or an on the job injury. With both issues companies can find themselves in court, in front of the employment board, or dealing with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the responsible managers had better have completed their sacred and essential duties or they have a good chance of losing their jobs.

The fact is if the company goes to court, or the employment board, in most instances the judge wants to rule in favor of the employee or former employee. Documentation is one of the best ways to protect yourself and show your due diligence. When a manager shows that he or she has done their due diligence they can be proud of their work, no matter the outcome, because they have fulfilled their ethical and managerial responsibility to the company.

Ray Cooper makes a good point in his article The Importance of Proper Documentation Procedures in the construction world, he says, “Good documentation just doesn’t happen by accident. Left to our own devices, many of us probably think we have better things to do than write down what the weather was that day, fill out the shop drawing log or, dare I say, update the schedule. After all, there’s a project to build. However, it only takes one time in litigation to change that mindset. In addition, the reality of a dispute resolution forum is that who’s right and who’s wrong may not determine who wins the case. It can come down to who can present the best documents to support their case.”


Treat your employees fairly and respectfully but never be their friend.

The last sacred and essential principle I want to review in this blog is one that my students resist the most. Treat your employees fairly and respectfully but never be their friend. My students often don’t understand why they should not “hang out” with those they supervise outside of work.

I believe the issue springs from the fact that they often hire their friends. Hiring friends is an issue in itself, which can be fraught with all kinds of pitfalls that can cause harm to the company and real problems to the manager including job loss. I can look at some of those issues in a later blog as well, but I can tell you this, it is probably a poor decision to hire your friend, particularly if you will be supervising the friend you hire. Recommending a friend or assisting your friend in making the right contact is fine. We all know the old adage “it’s who you know.” But hiring a friend you will supervise is a problem. The problem lies in being able to draw the line between “friend” and “supervisor.” Where does being the supervisor end and the friend begin? What happens if you go out for drinks at the end of the day and things are said or actions are taken that reflect poorly on the company? Is the supervisor still responsible to “protect” the company? Is the employee still responsible to the supervisor? Does the supervisor say something to the employee?

Alison Green says it best in her article Can a Manager and Employees Be Friends? “Managers who try to be friends with their staff run into all sorts of problems. First and foremost, attempting to ignore that professional boundary doesn’t change the fact that you in are in a position of power over them. Your job is to judge their work and make decisions that could affect their livelihoods, so you are inherently on unequal footing. You need to be objective enough that you can honestly evaluate their work, give direct feedback, and even potentially fire someone one day. You might think that you can do that while still being friends, but you probably can’t, despite your best intentions – and even if you really can, others won’t believe you can, so you’ll still be dealing with a perception problem.” (http://quickbase.intuit.com/blog/2013/10/22/can-a-manager-and-employees-be-friends/#sthash.R8vhoR62.dpuf)

It is ethically responsible for the managers to treat and supervise their employees fairly and respectfully. At times this can be difficult in itself, and bring its own set of problems, but why compound an already challenging set of job responsibilities by creating problems that don’t need to be in the work place and could be avoided.

Respecting these three sacred and essential principles for good management will give the company and the manager the greatest opportunity to be successful.

John M. Scholte, M.Div.

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