I just returned home from a trip to Chicago and my travels reminded me — once again — about the importance of setting clear expectations with consequences.

When I was in the city or any of the interstates around the airport, the posted speed limit was just a suggestion. People routinely drove 15 miles per hour above it, with a few outliers racing past even faster. Even though the limit was 70 mph, it did not deter people from ignoring the signs.

Later on my journey, I drove through a tiny town that is known for its notorious speed trap, and sure enough, everyone screeched to the requisite 25 mph and crawled through their city limits. The expectations were shared in the same way, but through consistent enforcement, people have come to know that this city means what the sign says.

Think about how your organization enforces its rules. Do you post the equivalent of highway speed limit signs, knowing that people will use them as suggestions rather than taking them literally, or do you administer consequences like in the small town where your people know that you mean what you say? It’s not what you say that matters, rather what you do after saying it that counts.

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