Have you ever stopped to consider where most of our laws, rules, restrictions and requirements come from? Most of them were created to protect the many from the few. In other words, most legislation (be it from a government or the Compliance department) is put into place to protect the many law-abiders from the few law-breakers.
I get it; it makes sense to me. And I think many rules and laws are necessary. But haven’t we taken it a little too far? Sometimes we create so many rules and regs that we end up punishing the many just to restrict the few from their rule-breaking tendencies. Once a rule is created, it ties the hands of everyone, not just the unruly rule-breakers.
Take this example from Seth Godin’s book, Purple Cow:
“At Brock’s Restaurant in Stamford, Connecticut, here’s what it says on the menu (in large type):
SORRY—NO SHARING SALAD BAR
IN ORDER TO KEEP OUR OVERALL PRICING REASONABLE, IT IS IMPORTANT THAT AN HONOR SYSTEM OF NO SHARING OF THE SALAD BAR BE RESPECTED. SHOULD YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND AND WISH TO ENJOY THE SALAD BAR, IT IS ONLY 2.95 WITH A SANDWICH, BURGER OR ENTRÉE. FOR YOUR UNDERSTANDING AND COOPERATION WE THANK YOU.”
Consider what prompted this sign to be posted. Restaurant management noticed some people piling on salad selections and then sharing them with their friends and family members. How often do you suppose this happened? How much do you suppose it actually cost the restaurant in salad losses? I would wager that a month’s worth of salad stealing didn’t cost that restaurant more than one to two hundred dollars in actual losses (and I think I’m being generous).
Now, consider how many honest and conscientious salad patrons read that message. How many of them do you think were irked by it? How many of them left with a lower opinion of the restaurant than they had when they arrived? How much bad publicity has that sign generated since being published by a nationally best-selling author?
Finally, think about the relatively small percentage of dishonest customers who dine at this restaurant. Do you think the sign was a sufficient deterrent to prevent them from salad-stealing? How many customers who had never thought of stealing salad now considered it after being introduced to the idea by the sign?
To quote an old proverb, the restaurant is “straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.” They are punishing the many to catch the few, and they probably aren’t catching the few anyway.
Seth Godin continues…
“Compare this to the wine policy at a restaurant called Frontière. The owner puts an open bottle of wine on every table, and at the end of the meal you tell the waiter how many glasses you consumed. The honor system.
Which is more worthy of positive comment? Marketing benefits aside, which leads to more incremental profit? (Hint: Two glasses of wine pay for a whole bottle at wholesale!)”
Both restaurants talk about an “honor system.” The second restaurant demonstrates theirs. Relying on the best of human nature, they put their money where their mouth is. Sure, they will experience losses from dishonest people, but the losses won’t be anything compared to the positive press the restaurant gets for its sign of good faith.
Am I saying that we should get rid of rules and regs? Not at all. I’m saying, before you create a rule to govern the activities of your team or your customers or your kids (or anyone, for that matter), think hard. What percentage of people is this rule intended to protect us from? What percentage of honest, well-meaning people will be punished by it? Could you better manage the behavior of the rule-breaking few by dealing with them directly? Is the risk associated with the rule-breaking manageable? In other words, can you live with the consequences of having a small percentage that are not in compliance?
Sometimes the cure is more expensive than the disease. Maybe the problem isn’t worth solving. Count the cost before you legislate.