April 1, 2003

When a person seeks employment with your company, he or she is basically saying, “I want to work for your company.” What this really means is “I will give up doing whatever I please, show up for work and behave the way you want me to behave, so long as you pay me in exchange.” Now, that gives you the employer, the opportunity to set some standards of behavior that are non-negotiable. That doesn’t mean you are taking away any creativity from your employees. After all, it is important for staff members to have some flexibility and to project their own personality into their job.

With that said; it is also a good idea for the employer to be inflexible with some things. In other words set non-negotiable standards. This is no different from every day life. Society has rules. Imagine, for example, if there were no road signs or laws to guide us on how to behave. Imagine if there were no rules in sport… it would be a shambles, right? The truth is, most of us like to know our boundaries, because that way we know what we can and can’t do. If we break the law we get fined or arrested. If we don’t play fairly in sport we get penalized in some way. We are use to non-negotiable standards. Why should it be any different when running a business? It shouldn’t!

To run smoothly, every business needs rules and policy. Although staff members may not always agree with the policy, they can and usually will comply. I will give you a couple of examples of what I mean – When I ran my retail stores I had a staff uniform designed. Staff members were required to wear the uniform – that was non-negotiable. However, it wasn’t quite like being in the military. There were various acceptable combinations, so the staff could adjust the uniform to suit their own personality. Here’s the deal: It was a non-negotiable standard that staff members were required to wear the uniform. Furthermore, it needed to be within the agreed guidelines using any one of the approved combinations. Anything else was unacceptable. Now, that’s not unreasonable.

Another example was the handling of money. Banknotes were required to be put into the cash registers in the correct compartments and all facing in the same direction. I had worked out that it took the same amount of time, to put the money away in a tidy order, as it did to shove it in any old way. This kept the cash registers tidy and made counting the money much easier. This was another non-negotiable standard that worked well. I’ll give you yet another example. As anyone in retailing will know, meeting and greeting customers is critical.

If you ask, “can I help you”, the inevitable response is “no thank you, I’m just looking.” So why ask a question that you know will get a predictably negative response. The answer is you shouldn’t! So, one of my non-negotiable standards was that staff members never, never, ever asked, “can I help you.” Instead staff members were given intensive training on exactly how to meet and greet customers. They were given lots of ideas and the flexibility to inject their own personality into what they said. When greeting a customer, staff members were encouraged to begin by talking about anything except making a sale. They could comment on the weather, something happening outside the store, the fashionable coat the customer was wearing… anything except making a sale. The reason for this was simple.

The first objective was to always try to relax the customer before attempting to make a sale. So “can I help you” was a definite “NO-NO”. I believe that, in setting non-negotiable standards, it is important to put the policies in writing. Although verbal instruction will be necessary on occasion, it is much easier to hold people accountable for something that is written. Finally, it is really important to ensure that employees know and fully understand the meaning of the non-negotiable standards. They need to be thoroughly trained on what’s required, or how to do the particular task.

I’m a strong believer in asking people “do you understand” and in some cases following up with “show me.” This way there can be no misunderstanding as to exactly what’s required. Although setting non-negotiable standards might sound very disciplined, it is really about running a business at maximum efficiency. And, in no way should that stop everyone from having a lot of fun. Besides, most employees will try hard to please… and they have a right to know what’s required of them and their boundaries.

Noel Peebles, Market Leaders Limited. Get Your 100% FREE mini-course “17 Powerful Secrets That Have Made Business Owners Into Millionaires.” 100% FREE! Simply send a blank email to

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