ICS Magazine

Use Rules As Tools & Guides, Not As Walls or Fences in Your Cleaning Business

March 6, 2001


Rules are originally created to structure thought and behavior. They are intended to replace a lack of knowledge with a guide to do the “right” thing.

Following rules is essential for resolving routine issues and ensuring the smooth running of your organization. On the other hand, rules can exist long after the situation that they were introduced to control has ceased to exist. In such situations, rules can inhibit behaviors that could be productive in future situation. The water damage restoration field is certainly an example of this, especially when the subject of pad removal and “top down drying” arises.

Observing the residents of New York City walk the streets of Manhattan is an interesting example of “soft” rules and how people use rules as tools. New York City has a “no jaywalking” law. It’s enforced on only rare occasions. Most pedestrians in New York City ignore the law because it no longer fits their current environment. The operational unofficial rule is “don’t obstruct traffic,” and “don’t get hit by a vehicle.”

In small cleaning service businesses like ours, a number of rules are best viewed as guidelines, or “soft” rules. The purpose of a rule is to provide us with an opportunity to learn from the knowledge and experience of those who created the rule. Acting against a rule is a personal experiment that must be based on personal experience and good judgment.

Look at the field of upholstery cleaning for an example. The “rule” for S-rated fabrics is to dry clean only, (and for the inexperienced technician that is absolutely a hard rule.) However, the trained professional can produce a superior job quite safely with a moisture-based system.

Look at the loose rug-cleaning category for another example. The “rule” for dryclean only Orientals or specialty rugs is to clean with a dry powder compound, (again a “hard” rule for the inexperienced). However, once again, the trained professional can consistently produce a superior job with a moisture-based system.

On the other hand, we do have some “hard” rules in our industry that are all too frequently “softened” for reasons of expediency in the area of safety, waste water disposal and even in following the carpet cleaning standards when it comes to pre-vacuuming.

We deviate from a rule by trying something different with an expectation of what could go well and what could go wrong. The guidance provided by the rule may be valuable and serve to direct our behavior in a manner that is safer or more effective—if so, we have learned something.

Conversely, a rule followed without thought is not a learning experience; it is obedience; and a rule ignored without thought is also not a learning experience—it is simply disobedience.

Here is a final thought stimulator for your consideration:

Is it the role of a true professional to make sensible exceptions to general rules? When and how much we deviate from a rule must be actively considered. Keep in mind that rebelliously breaking rules is no better than blindly following them.

Stop by the ICS discussion board (www.icsmag.com) and share your feelings on this subject.