In a move that I will never understand, the Iowa state legislature approved the sale of fireworks but left it up to individual municipalities to decide whether or not it was legal to shoot the devices. In the city where I live, it is illegal to light off fireworks, but very legal to sell them. Thus, in several parking lots throughout town, we have big tents of vendors selling the pyrotechnics that are forbidden to be (legally) used.

Of course, the vendors have no incentive to clarify the distinction to customers, and buyers assume that they are legal because they are being sold everywhere. The police have been trying to spread the word that a $250 fine awaits those who shoot them within the city, but by then the damage will have been done.

Think about whether your organization has a policy with an incongruity similar to the fireworks debacle. Does your business office preach stewardship yet deny employees opportunities to get a warehouse membership or purchase from a cheaper vendor? Does it claim to put customers first yet cut the support it gives to the call center? Or does your organization officially claim that flextime is available but shuns those who take advantage of it?

Whether through a mismatched set of laws, inconsistent policies or conflicting norms, no one benefits when there are mixed messages about whether something is appropriate or not. It’s fine to lay down the law but only if you are prepared to make everyone follow it.

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