Stick to Your Guns

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Every now and then, I like to look back on lessons that I’ve learned from the best in the industry. One powerful lesson that I’ve learned is about rules and why they’re there in the first place.

 I have always struggled with wanting to say ‘yes’ to everything and everyone. I want to say ‘yes’ to our employees, to our customers and to our vendors. I want everyone to be happy all of the time, which, of course, is impossible and I have learned will kill your business. There comes a time when you realize that saying ‘yes’ to some things hurts your business, employees, team and your ability to manage it all. 

I learned this lesson from one of the most successful large automotive chain company executives in the U.S., who, for the purpose of this article, we’ll call John (he wishes to remain anonymous). John told me that everyday, a new warranty job question will come up. For example, “Can we do this job for free because this customer is two days out of warranty?”

Everyone around you will want you to pay the technicians, pay for the parts if you can’t return them for refund, continue to warranty the car… The list of one offs and what if’s goes on and on. John told me you have to make the rule that if it’s out of warranty, it’s out of warranty. It doesn’t matter if it’s by one day, five days or two months. The reason is, once you start to make exceptions, then when does it end? Does holding true to a rule make you bad at customer service or business? No—it’s just the rule. So, follow it or else you will have these little bends that come up everyday. These little bends are what suck up all your time and make you question if you did the right thing. I can promise you that if I call up my parts vendor and it’s one day out of warranty, they won’t give it away for free. I may not like it that day, but it’s not unfair. 

Following the rules comes into play in other areas of the business as well. Here’s an example: We have a lot of employees and say, for instance, one of them comes in and asks for a day off because of XYZ. Maybe they didn’t take a lunch last week or they have another reason that you believe is valid enough to warrant a day off. You feel bad and let that one employee have the day off. Then, of course, another employee finds out and if you don’t also give them the day off, you turn into the bad guy. You bend the rules for one and the word gets out and if you don’t do it for the next employee they could both end up leaving.  

Another example is when you do someone a favor, explains John. John gives the example of a customer leaving their car at one of the shops for over a month because they couldn’t afford an engine repair. The manager then chooses to give the engine at cost and doesn’t charge labor. One year later, the engine fails. The customer is now angry and demands you pay for all labor, the entire new engine and extend the warranty for another period because they “paid” for an engine one year ago (at cost). 

The point of all of this is really simple. Just follow the rules that you lay out as the owner and you will never have to second guess yourself and your employees won’t come and question you about their options because they will know your stance. This will result in happier employees because you won’t disappoint anyong—they know the rules. You also won’t have the added stress of someone asking you to bend our own rules. You won’t have to worry about losing respect from others because you bent a rule.

At the end of the day, we all have to make decisions that are ethical, practical and what is best for our families, customers, employees and companies. However, always remember if you made a rule, it was for a good reason. So, if you choose to break it, make sure the reason is just as good or maybe it wasn’t a good rule to begin with.


I’ll leave you with one basic tenet: Bending the rules is a slippery slope. Once a person starts bending the rules, then it becomes easier and easier to break the next one. The fact is that bending the rules—even once—can get a person in trouble.   

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