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a blog by Chris Barrow

Are Exceptions Really Proving the Rule, or Exposing Hidden Dangers?

"exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis"

Which, literally translated, means "the exception proves the rule in cases not excepted".

The last part "in cases not excepted", has often been either missing or misconstrued in the modern idiom, leaving us with "the exception proves the rule" as the modern phrase.

It gets a bit confusing, but I like the Wikipedia explanation:

"This meaning of the phrase, outside of a legal setting, can describe inferences taken from signs, statements or other information. For example, the inference in a shop from a sign saying "pre-paid delivery required for refrigerators" would be that pre-paid delivery is not required for other objects. In this case, the exception of refrigerators proves the existence of a rule that pre-paid delivery is not required."

In which case:

  • a pre-appointment deposit for an implant consultation proves the existence of a rule that no deposit is required for other consultations;

  • a late-night opening on a Thursday proves that we don't open late any other night;

  • a pay review every January proves that we don't review pay in any other month.

My point being - we all need to be very careful how we describe things.

  • A set of rules around time-keeping proves that we don't have rules around anything else?

I've been dealing with a lot of team dissent in recent weeks. I don't know whether it's the weather, too many Bank Holiday weekends or the General Election (yawn), but certain team members have been at best ignoring their basic training and, at worse, causing real problems by stirring up revolution.

An email from Monday:

"We are trying to put out fires and when we deal with one problem, 2 new ones arise.

We have had no choice but to move some employees to roles not suited for them. This has made an awful mess of the diaries.

This has been made worse by someone who doesn't seem to care. 

Others do just what they need to and they can work hard but teamwork is not always there."

I have a number of questions in responding to this email - but equally, questions to ask you this morning:

  • Does every team member have a copy of

    • Your vision statement;

    • Your core values;

    • Your mission statement;

    • Your goals;

    • Your Politeness Manifesto;

    • Their own job description;

    • Their own contract;

    • The staff handbook.

If you don't spell out, in writing, levels of performance and behaviour, then the terrorists and saboteurs will take that as proof that you don't have any.

Don't fall into the trap of letting your exceptions be the evidence used to prove their rule - "there's nothing in writing that says we have to be on the bus, which proves that we don't have to be on the bus."

As Employers and service providers, we must prove that excellence is considered the normal and not the exception.

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