You Decide: Business Rules vs. Case by Case

It seems to me that carefully defined rules clash with judgment calls and case-by-case common sense. You grow a business team based on one or the other, but not both.

Take the example of customer returns: do you define the rules and stick to them, or do you make exceptions all the time. You can’t do both. If you offer a 60-day money-back guarantee, some of your team will want to refuse returns from beyond 60 days, because that’s the rule. Others will want to give an unhappy customer their money back even if it’s been 61, 90, 120 days or longer.

The problem is that you can’t do both, but you want to. I’ve always wanted employees empowered to break the rules for special cases. I’ve always thought people wanted to be empowered to use their common sense and good judgment. But I’ve learned through the years that “you decide” and “use your judgment” is not everybody’s favorite policy. That makes some people very uncomfortable; they want to know the rules and follow them exactly.

This conflict applies to lots of issues that come up as a business grows. Think about bonuses in this context. Think about sick days and vacations. If you build a lot of rules, making exceptions gets harder.

(Image: RAGMA IMAGES/Shutterstock)


  • Charles Robinson says:

    My mother is in the hospital and the prognosis isn’t good. I e-mailed my boss and copied HR to let them know I may need to leave unexpectedly for a family emergency. The HR director replied and reminded me that since I have no paid time off remaining any time I take will be without pay. He also included a copy of the section of the employee handbook that details how much time I am allowed to take for a death in the family.

    This slavish adherence to policy is one of the reasons I’m looking for another job. Policies shouldn’t be used as weapons against employees.

    • Tim Berry says:

      Charles, I agree with you completely, policies should not be weapons against employees. You remind me once again that policy means nothing more than “this is what was decided once” but people use that word as a shield, and far too often.

      More important, I’m very sorry to read that I hope you get through it as well as can be hoped for. It’s a good example, but a sad one, and I think these times in life should be respected.


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