If you have ever overacted, you are not alone; however, you should recognize that one of the worst human tendencies is to overreact. Too often, our politicians overreact to a single transgression with a new law, rule, or regulation. Over the weekend, my wife joked about having to show ID when buying an alcoholic beverage. The waiter apologized and explained the restaurant policy of checking all customer IDs, as a result of a lawsuit by an intoxicated underage patron. It did not matter that the under aged patron used a fake ID, nor does it matter that 99% of the restaurant customers are 40+. All customers must provide ID. The people intent on cheating will still get fake IDs.

Although law makers and some jurists would have you believe otherwise, judgment and accountability cannot be replaced by laws and “zero tolerance” policies. It’s silly to suspend a 7-year-old from school for taking a nail clipper (with a nail file) to school, and it’s silly for us to run our businesses as if the world is black and white and subject to clear lines of demarcation.

A business, for which I provide training programs, recently developed a new employee manual. Their attorney reviewed the manual for conformance with applicable employment laws but recommended against an employee manual for two reasons. From a legal perspective, the attorney stated that an employer can inadvertently give up certain rights that may not be considered when the manual is being developed. From a practical perspective, the attorney advised that a manual can force a manager to classify an employee mistake or discretion as black or white, and may force the employer to make a decision that is not in the best interest of the businesses or the employee. Although I am not against employee manuals, businesses must be clear on the information that they are trying to present in the manual. All too often, employee manuals are used as a tool to enforce policies and to punish or terminate employees. The world is full of shades of grey, requiring judgment and, very often, toleration and forgiveness. Employee manuals, rules, regulations and reactive laws can prevent that from happening.

The most successful and profitable business with which I worked over the past 25+ years thrives in shades of gray. Their employee manual was developed to provide clarity and so all employees can provide consistent and superb service to all customers. The manual does not list rules, regulations or employee punishment guidelines. The CEO communicates a vision to work toward and parameters to work within. There are few rules. The business has grown from 20 to more than 1,000 employees, has enjoyed double digit revenue and net income growth for more than 20 consecutive years and has been named one of the best places to work – all because they like shades of grey.


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