Empowering Employees: Do Your Rules Beg to be Broken?

by Jeannie Walters

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empowering employees

It’s important to have rules. There is no doubt about that.

In any organization, we need processes and rules to help establish what the expectations are. But having a list of rules without connecting them to a WHY is a recipe for disaster.

Give your people a mission with meaning.

Companies need a mission, but not a mission that hangs in a frame in the corporate headquarters and has 18 bullet points. If you already have a lengthy mission, then distill that to a few words for your customer experience mission. What experience do you want to deliver to your customers? This also ties back to how you want your employees to treat each other, your partners, vendors, and customers, too.

The challenge here is to use real language that matters. “To be the best…” means nothing. Corporate speak of “best in class” or “deliver value” doesn’t get you very far, either.

Our mission at 360Connext is:

To create fewer ruined days for customers.

We begin every staff meeting with it. We talk about it often. It’s easy to remember and grounds us when we need it.

The power of simplicity here works. And here’s why.

If your people only have rules and processes to follow, it’s easy for them to justify breaking those rules if they come up with their own “why.” Tying actions with a mission (and reinforcing it often) helps employees see the perceived mundane rule as something bigger. It’s about delivering on the mission. Everyone in your organization should be able to tie what they are doing to the mission.

Recently, a Harvard Business Review article highlighted a study regarding the risks of hiring “toxic” employees. I’m sure you know the type. They exhibit overconfidence, are self-centered, but are productive and rule-following. You read that right. They answered questions on an assessment with the answer: rules “should always be followed.”

Those very people have a 25% greater chance of being fired for actually breaking the rules. This was surprising. It’s not surprising to hear those cocky self-centered jerks are toxic, right? But productive? And rule-following?

Pleasing the boss isn’t a good reason to follow the rules. Eventually, those toxic employees are going to start breaking the rules. They will begin to see their own justifications, instead of understanding the connection to the mission.

empowering employees

The best employees, your superstars, will sometimes break the rules, too. They will break the rules because they feel empowered to do so to live the mission. They will make things right for customers or spend a bit more time getting to know them.

[Tweet “”That’s the kind of rule-breaking you want.” -@jeanniecw”]

So it’s time to ask yourself a few questions.

  1. empowering employeesDo you have a mission? Does it make sense? Do your people actually know it and live it?
  2. Do you tie the rules and processes of your organization back to the mission often?
  3. Do your employees feel empowered to live the mission? Can they break a rule to make things right?


There is a saying that rules were made to be broken. Maybe that’s true, but you have to know why.

Images by BrentDPayne via Creative Commons license

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Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is the CEO/Founder of Experience Investigators, a global Customer Experience consulting firm. She has 20 years of experience helping companies improve loyalty and retention, employee engagement, and overall customer experience. Jeannie is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP,) a charter member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA,) a Professional Member of the National Speakers Association, LinkedIn Learning instructor, TEDx speaker, and President-Elect of the National Speakers Association Illinois chapter. Learn more here.

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