What are your rules of engagement?

Updated on 12 November 2014

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What are your rules of engagementOne of the most important life lesson I have learnt, is setting up rules of engagement with anyone I am in a relationship with. This means, my partner, my children, my family, friends, colleagues, staff, suppliers and of course, clients.

What are rules of engagement? They are not battle plans or guidelines on how to have an argument or fight, but rather an approach to managing expectations and setting up roles and responsibilities for each parties.

These guidelines can be conveyed in various manners. A good example are large retailers. They manage your expectations going into the store with their marketing messages about quality and price and then set up the terms and conditions for refunds, replacement of products and guarantees in case your expectations are not met. These businesses may deal with millions of people all over the country on a daily basis and right now, reading this you have certain feelings about those retailers and you probably know what to expect and that you can trust them to fulfill their side of the relationship.

When I engage with someone, in a work environment, I find that setting up the rules of engagement creates the following for both parties:

  • Clearer communication
  • Accountability
  • More realistic expectations
  • Removal of assumptions

These are all very important matters in a successful relationship.

Lessons learnt

Unfortunately, I have not always applied this principle and the outcome is usually the same, there is an expectation that cannot be met by myself or the other party and this leads to problems in delivery or payment.

I once worked with an attorney who would refer me to his clients to complete tasks such as due diligences for acquisitions, valuations and the like. The work was stimulating, the potential earnings was good and the clients affable as we both had a relationship with the attorney.

The challenge was, that after completing my assignment it was very difficult to get paid. My expectation was that if I was battling to get remunerated, the attorney would step in and assist me in getting paid as I was completing work for his clients.

This never materialised and we ended up having a heated argument and severing our relationship. I also never did any work for any of those clients again.

The point being, I never set the rules of engagement correctly with the clients nor with the attorney who was terrible at collecting his fees from his clients. Therefore, his client’s expectation was that I would be equally tolerant of late payments.

I needed to be clearer, up front, on the rules of engagement with him and with his clients, perhaps even asking for a deposit or meeting his clients with the attorney present.

Lesson learnt, school fees paid.

About the author: Stephen Read is the founder and CEO of FIELD an incubator programme working in rural and under-resourced areas including KatlehongVosloorus and Thokoza. Stephen is also a life-long entrepreneur and now a teacher.

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