“Rules of Engagement” define expectations and boundaries
​— what is and is not permissible behavior.

When one of our clients, The Bama Companies, a major supplier to McDonald’s, aimed to become a billion-dollar company, they created a new mergers and acquisitions department.

One of the Rules of Engagement they set for the new department was “only acquire companies compatible with Bama’s culture” — a culture with an unusually high commitment to safety, integrity, and quality of life for all employees.

This Rule became a gateway decision filter, so choices could be made quickly about what companies to even consider. The Rule ensured that no one would be wasting time researching or negotiating deals with companies that would not be a good fit for the Bama culture.

Could Bama have achieved its goal to become a billion-dollar company without its “cultural fit” Rule for acquisitions? It would have been far easier to acquire companies without this requirement. But in the eyes of the Bama people, the cost would have been too great.

Making the Case for Rules of Engagement

We’ve found that Rules of Engagement are essential for every organization. Of course, you must make the case upfront.

A few years ago, as we were starting a project with a new client, an executive challenged us. “Why are we wasting time on this ‘Rules of Engagement’ stuff? We believe in empowerment!”

What do you think happens when people hear that kind of message? Do they think, “Great! Let’s get going!”

Rarely do people move quickly because they know that leaders always have expectations and boundaries. People fear if they unwittingly violate them, there will be consequences.

That is why people want expectations and boundaries to be clarified — not to the point of dictating their every move, but with enough specificity for them to quickly and allow their creativity and enthusiasm to flourish.

Advantages of Rules of Engagement

Rules of Engagement are not permanent; they are reconsidered as circumstances change. Not being ‘set in stone’ is a tremendous advantage because few situations are static.

Another advantage is that they will serve as an antidote to legacy mindsets. This makes them a powerful tool for driving new behaviors and ways of working because they shift the organization’s thinking patterns.

3 Keys to Clarify Rules of Engagement

The critical task for leaders is to ensure that people have the right Rules of Engagement to meet the exigencies of their current situation.

When clarifying your Rules of Engagement, be sure to:

  • Make them simple to understand. If they are too complex, they are of little value.
  • Remain ready to change the Rule quickly whenever new circumstances arrive.
  • Ensure that the current Rules are understood and committed to by everyone.

Until cancelled or changed, Rules of Engagement should remain top-of-mind and be followed. The fact that they are not permanent does not mean they can be ignored.

Learn how GEO can help you Clarify Rules of Engagement. Schedule a free consultation.

Thanks for exploring this GEO Leadership Action.

What are your key Takeaways?

I’ll look forward to your comments.

Leland Russell
Founder / CEO
GEO Group Strategic Services