So you have an employee who likes to play everything “by the book.” He (she) is adamant that customers and coworkers adhere strictly to the company’s procedures and protocols, and is unwilling to bend even the slightest bit. On the one hand, this employee is very valuable. He understands the need for consistency and the message consistency sends about a company’s and individual’s integrity. On the other hand, the apparent unwillingness to sometimes take a step back and make decisions based on a bigger picture can be frustrating. Following company protocol is one thing; completely abandoning common sense is another.

To deal with this, we first need to look at the cause. Why do people behave like this? There are a few reasons. The first is that many people simply find great comfort in rules. They are tangible, definable,and black and white. “Grey” areas require interpretation and judgment. There are no clear guidelines to use as a reference; thereis nothing to hold on to. The second reason is fear. “As long as I don’t stray from the rules, I won’t get in trouble” is the philosophy. If things don’t work out, it was the rules themselves, not the employee, who is to blame. The third reason is more philosophical. Rules are there for a reason, the thinking goes, and if we all just abandon them to use our own individual judgment, the end result will be chaos.

Here are three things that you, the manager, can do to help this employee be a little less obsessive about things:

1. Make it crystal clear to your employee which rules are absolutely non-negotiable, and which are to be treated more as ‘guidelines.’

2. Whenever an employee makes an inappropriate ‘by the book’ decision, use it as a coaching opportunity. (Note: this is a time for education, not for a scolding)

3. If your employee does make a judgment call that doesn’t work out, gently show him/her what the right solution should have been – but don’t jump down his/her throat

Over time, these approaches will give your employees greater confidence in their decision making. Eventually they will learn when it’s appropriate to throw the rule book at someone and when to throw it out the window.

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