What Good Are Rules?

If you’ve been successful in business, you have had to establish, at some point, some base policies to ensure consistency, and so that your customers know what to expect. In some industries, this is regulated. Without getting into the rationale as to why some things are regulated and some are not, suffice to say that, in many cases, these rules that are established are not rules, so much as they are guidelines. After all, rules, by definition, shouldn’t be broken.

In the training side of our organization, we have rules. Or maybe they are guidelines. Published, we call them Policies. You can view ours by going to

As you go through them, you see I have tried to mix in some fun with all of the legalese. Nobody has ever commented on the fun, which means they are either trying not to encourage me (as my wife says), or, more likely, they are just not reading them.

Our policy for class cancellations is fairly clear: Due to the tight student to instructor ratio, refunds are “not available” less than 48 hours before class, but you may change to another class (for a fee). In trying to be fair to all, this seems to be a “middle ground” that works for most, and keeps people who roll out of bed at 8am and don’t feel like coming…from staying home.

Emergencies are always an exception, though I don’t really specify that. I had a manager call me, and he had a death in his family and requested rescheduling for he and his co-manager. He didn’t ask for a refund, he asked to reschedule, and it was a couple of days before class. As I did not have any classes scheduled in his area, I said that I could offer him a refund, but maybe there was a way his co-manager could still attend.

He explained that his co-manager was not comfortable making the 90 minute drive alone, so I said that (outside of “policy”) that I would refund both of them, less the class materials and the shipping for things they already received. He was grateful, and hoped our paths would cross again.

Was this against our policy? Yes. So, by definition, it kind of goes against our idea of a “rule”. As the head of the organization, though, it becomes my “call” to make. I could easily have held both of their class fees, and said, “that’s policy.” After all, they agreed that they understood policy when they enrolled. I also could have refunded one and said the other one still had to come. I chose compassion, not because they called, or wrote, not because they were nice about it (although that does go a long way, I’ve discovered), but because, morally, it felt like the right thing to do.

What “rules” and “policies” do you have in place? What is the reason behind them? How willing are you to “flex” them? Some just plain won’t. Airlines, pay attention. Hotels, sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. In our economy, though, we seem to grab every bit of client money we can, and then hold on with a death grip. Sometimes it’s ok to let go. If you believe in karma, or some semblance of it, you know you’ll be better for it in the end.

Oh, by the way, the guy called the other day, and just offered to host three classes for me at no charge. He also enrolled 8 individuals himself. Karma, baby.