About one year ago I was in my car listening to an interview on NPR. The woman being interviewed was quite adamant that people seeking jobs should learn to conform if they wanted to get hired. She made the point that employers were not interested in hiring the so called square pegs. The interview struck a chord with me as I began to think back about my many years in the advertising agency business and all the square pegs I knew who had made great contributions to the agency and to their clients. However, I did have to admit that the square pegs did take more management time than other employees. That afternoon was the stimulus for a new book called “The Square Pegs”.

One of the challenging square pegs is the person who believes rules apply to others and not them. It’s a mind set prominent in society and on the increase in both society and the workplace. I’m not a professional therapist so I don’t have an appreciation for why the rule breakers behave as they do. However, as a manager I do have an appreciation for what it takes to get them to become part of the team and contribute without damaging the organization or the person responsible for managing them.

The best rules are those you set for yourself as a manager. Your adherence to the rules you set establishes a policy of “do as I do”. Employees always watch the manager with a great deal of interest. If they observe you arriving at work prior to the established time such as 8:30 or 9:00 then they know a late arrival by them is a problem. This applies to all situations in which you have set a rule and followed it. You establish the environment with your behavior.

Many firms have a casual approach to work attire yet still expect a certain degree of professionalism. Many agencies allow more casual attire than their clients. However, the smart agencies dress to match their clients whenever they have a client meeting. Many of the creative people at the agencies I managed kept a change of wardrobe in their office in case of unexpected client meetings. A rule was unnecessary particularly when a creative person remained behind at the agency because they were not dressed properly. It might happen once but not twice. They understood what was expected and behaved accordingly. The problem employee is one who does not learn from mistakes. A person who misses more than one client meeting due to improper attire is sending a signal. They are a problem.

In these situations a good manager does not react by establishing more rules. Rules are not the answer. The answer is to reassess the employee and ask a few questions:
– Does the employee share the same objectives as the rest of the team?
– Is the work the primary focus of the employee?
– Can you trust the employee?
– Does the employee have potential for growth within the firm?

If the answer to these questions is “yes” then the employee, the square peg who believes rules are for others, is worth extra management time on your part. When the answers to the above questions are all “yes” the employee can usually be put back on the right track via a private discussion between the two of you.

If the answer to the above questions is “no”, then the employee is usually not worth an investment of your management time and probably should be terminated. His or her ignoring the rules becomes a benefit to you because it is a signal that the employee is not a long term investment.

The key with rules is to have as few as possible, be firm and have a zero tolerance policy.