Business Rules of the Road

By MARK RIFFEY for the Flathead Beacon

While they vary from person to person, our values are the central driving force in our everyday lives.

These values form the context of daily decision making that drives our behavior. Quite often, these set-in-stone rules are accompanied by a set of guidelines that we adhere to, but occasionally allow ourselves to bend now and then.

When used as the lens through which we interact with clients, vendors, contractors and employees, these set-in-stone rules form operational boundaries that no situation and no person can convince our business to stray from.

While all of this is obvious, what might not be so obvious is how deep the influence of these rules can be.

As such, it’s worth considering where your rules come from and how you use them.

Mommy, where do rules come from?
Most rules are formed from our personally-weighted mix of religious beliefs, experiences, politics and the lessons we learned as a child.

As parents, we tend to model the rules learned from our parents, with a tweak here and there to make them our own.


Our teachers can be a big influence our values and rules. Photo by Kevin Dooley | Courtesy photo

As former employees who now employ others, we often model our unshakable business rules from two things – what we appreciated and valued as employees, and what devalued us, our clients and the work we performed.

Teachers, mentors, authors and speakers whose messages resonate with us also influence our chosen rules.

Share your rules
In the “old days”, business values were often demonstrated and rarely communicated, at least not explicitly.

Today, corporate values are often over-shared and under-demonstrated, which is ironic when the over-shares are coming from consistently under-demonstrating companies.

Here’s why I think it’s important to communicate your rules despite those bad examples:

If your employees, vendors and clients know what drives your decisions, it makes your sometimes aberrant behavior all that much easier to decipher.

Aberrant? Really? Yes. Watch any entrepreneur long enough and you’re likely to think their elevator doesn’t reach the top floor now and then. Knowing why is hugely important to helping people understand you and your behavior – and that is key to allowing them to see the big picture.

Sharing your rules also has another effect, and this one is what drives lesser organizations to keep them to themselves: attraction and repulsion.

Prospects, clients, vendors and employees are absolutely attracted to and/or repulsed by your stated values – whether your adhere to them or not.

The traditional thought process is “We need as many customers as we can get, so let’s keep our values to ourselves.” There are a few problems with this. One – you don’t need as many as you can get, though you probably need more than you have. Two – The reason you think you need as many as you can get is often because many of the ones you have are the wrong ones.

Communicating and demonstrating these values will push some prospects and clients away. Would you rather this happened after investing time and money in them, or before?

Would you rather find out that your values don’t match the client’s after having a falling out with them, or would you prefer to avoid clients whose values conflict with yours?

Replace “clients” in that sentence with “employees” and “vendors” and re-read it.

The FlipFlopper
It’s worth paying attention to how your rules impact your business, your staff and your clients. Part of that is recognizing that the decision to adopt a never-wavering rule isn’t always permanent.

While that might seem counter-intuitive, the reality is that we mature and we learn – and as a result, our business’ “never wavering” rules may need fine tuning to maintain peak performance, not unlike the needs of a Ferrari or Learjet engine.

Most of us learn from our experiences and our mistakes and tweak our behavior as a result. If that’s punishable by losing a client, then I dont think you need that client.

It’s not uncommon to feel like a cheeseball when experiences and learning opportunities (aka mistakes) leave you with no choice other than to tweak what you formerly (and publicly) called unshakable. Get over it.

Sure, someone might call you a flip-flopper, so you’d better make the change for a solid reason. Either you learn and adapt or you don’t. Choose one or the other and get over the fallout, because you can’t choose both.

Lost clients who disdain learning and adapting will be welcomed by competitors just like them. If they aren’t right for you, that’s OK.

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a strategic, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s sitecontact him on Twitter, or email him at


Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a strategic, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s sitecontact him on Twitter, or email him  Check out the Flathead Beacon archive of all of Mark’s blogs.