By Larry Galler

Recently, I met a long-time friend for lunch. He is the owner of a local, successful, 12-year-old company in a service-related industry.

When he walked up to our table about 10 minutes late, I could see he was angry, agitated, and red-faced. “It looks like you are going to have a stroke. What’s up?” I asked.

“I’m sorry I’m late, but just as I was leaving to meet you, I got a call from a good customer. One of my employees, Steve, went into her house smoking a cigarette. I can’t believe it!”

He went on to explain that this customer, a fastidious homeowner — like most — doesn’t allow anyone to smoke in the house. She was, to put it mildly, quite upset.

My friend kept venting, “Steve knows that smoking on the job is not up to our standards, but he knows his stuff, is a good worker, and I don’t want to fire him. I don’t know what to do about this.”

Be the policy enforcer

I suggested that he should be able to retain both the good customer and employee, but he would have to work at it by becoming a better leader, and as such, he would have to be “the enforcer.”

He had already handled the first issue by not charging the angry customer and promising it would never happen again. But more importantly, if he worked on the “standards” issue, he should be able to take care of the entire issue permanently.

I asked him one question: “Why do people do ‘below-standard’ work?” Since he was stumped, I answered it for him. “The answer is, because they can!” I worked to impress upon him the need to be a better leader instead of allowing staff to disregard standards and policies.

It isn’t enough to set performance standards like “No smoking.” The standards must be enforced. It takes leadership to create standards and enforce them without having your blood pressure skyrocket with possible negative health ramifications or verbally exploding and screaming, causing an otherwise valued employee to leave. It would be much better to have a firm — but calm — private conversation designed to modify Steve’s bad behavior.

If my friend were a great leader, he would frequently hold staff meetings where he could discuss company standards, inspire everyone to exceed them, and reinforce them… instead of just having those standards written in the policy manual where they are looked at one time and then forgotten.

Create a plan

Over lunch, we discussed ways he could enforce this standard and then work to forcefully reestablish the company standards to his entire staff.

He’s enforcing the “No Smoking” policy by having Steve hand-write a letter of apology and forfit his commission on that job. Once the letter has been sent to the customer, he will hold a staff meeting to discuss this issue and then hold a series of brief weekly meetings where, over time, he will discuss every company policy and standard of performance.

The goal of all this effort is to raise the company culture among all staff members and to then keep everyone continually aware of the way they are expected to perform.

It is so easy to forget core principles when management doesn’t reinforce them — until they are neglected.

I’ll bet the price of our next lunch that, if he works at becoming a better leader, he won’t have to take on the role of “The Enforcer” very often.


Larry Galler has been creating marketing and management breakthroughs for owners of small and mid-size businesses for more than 20 years. For a free telephone strategy session, email larry@larrygaller.com. Subscribe to his weekly newspaper column and newsletter at www.larrygaller.com.