5 Rules You Should Eliminate Now

Last Updated Jun 10, 2011 5:41 AM EDT

The dirty little secret of business today: there really are no agreed-upon ways of doing business anymore. Every company does everything differently, and you can't really compare them because there are no controlled experiments. So it isn't a science.

But here are five very old rules that I see successful companies breaking all the time. I thought they'd give you some food for thought - unless you're already breaking all of these-- which I very much doubt.

1. Set working hours

Forget 9 - 5. Try to get rid of face time. All your team should have goals they're accountable for but when and where they're achieved really doesn't matter. Some people work well at night, some early morning, some don't get up til noon. I've always told my employees that, as long as they didn't mess their co-workers around, I didn't care what hours they worked. No one let me down.

2. Limit vacation time

The communications firm Global Tolerance doesn't give employees vacation allowances. They just trust people to manage their time on and their time off in such a way that co-workers and clients aren't disappointed. With a 40% per year growth rate for the last 4 years, this does not appear to have hurt them. To the contrary, it's one of the things that has provoked high levels of commitment.

3. Agonize over maternity leave

Everywhere I go, business owners tell me that, sure, they want to hire women - but especially in small companies, losing a key employee for weeks or months on end, due to maternity, isn't feasible. In Europe, where there's statutory maternity leave (actually there is everywhere in the world except Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland and the U.S.), being required to give women time off enrages many men. Every woman I've ever employed wanted to come back to work and wanted not to lose touch. With each one, I reached a different agreement about how we'd manage the time off - and in no case was I disappointed. Some did a day a week all through their leave; some wanted to come back early and take time off later. All these formations worked.

By the way, individuals may choose whether or not to have kids but they can't choose whether or not to have parents. So think about maternity leave as your rehearsal for the day when most of your workforce have elderly parents they need to attend to.

4. Fire slowly

Everyone makes mistakes hiring, whether they are quick and instinctive or slow and methodical. And usually that mistake is obvious in the first 6 months. Do not think you can turn this around. It's distracting, time-consuming and you will fail. If you goofed, 'fess up and move on.

5. Skimp on severance

This comes via Jonathan Kaplan, CEO of Pure Digital. "We gave our workers four to six months' severance, even if they'd worked only four months. You might think that's crazy. But it was our mistake to hire that person. And it's not that much money, really." Of course those employees left the company feeling pretty good about it - and spreading the word that it was a good place to work. Cheaper than headhunters!

Are there any old rules that you're breaking? Would you try breaking these five? Why or why not?

Further Reading:
  • Margaret Heffernan On Twitter»

    Margaret Heffernan has been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom. A speaker and writer, her most recent book Willful Blindness was shortlisted for the Financial Times Best Business Book 2011. Visit her on www.MHeffernan.com.

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