“Good fences make good neighbors.”
– Robert Frost
Robert Frost wrote ’Mending Wall’ a hundred years ago. It talks about how a man and his neighbor walk their property lines to mend places in their common stone wall that need repair after winter’s damage.
One man wonders if mending the wall each year wasn’t just a waste of time. He didn’t see the need for a wall at all because since he and his neighbor posed no threat to each other and didn’t understand what he was keeping out or keeping in. Thus, it served no purpose. On the other hand, his neighbor kept repeating ‘Good fences make good neighbors;’ and so the ritual continued year after year.
In reality, both men are correct. Fences keep people out, let people in, and help people grow relationships around the set parameters they provide.
There’s a place for fences in business too. We call it setting boundaries. Like fences, their intent is not only to provide structure and set parameters for our businesses and our employees, but to lay foundations that strengthen internal bonds that build our culture and bind both employees and customers to our brand. Boundaries also provide the framework by which businesses grow and thrive. They enable us to focus on our own agendas and stay on track, instead of wasting our time and energy on what may or may not appear greener on the other side of the fence.
As a business owner, you get to establish organizational boundaries. But while you may create them, your success requires the participation of everyone you employ. Simply put, you have the authority to determine and set boundaries, but the power to implement them successfully must be granted to you from your teams.
It’s a matter of influence, and it’s most easily earned once everyone understands why and how boundaries will actually make their lives better, and their jobs easier and more productive. A winning approach doesn’t include telling people what they can’t do. Rather, it tells people what they can do and what they can achieve.
Why do success businesses set boundaries?
- Setting boundaries define expectations. From the perspective of your employee, they can better understand what you expect of them, and what they expect of themselves. Once people understand what their deliverables are and what they are responsible for, their objectives are clear. They no longer need to worry about ‘scope creep.’ or competitiveness.
- Setting boundaries improves both focus and productivity. Once parameters are set, they are free to focus on their assigned roles without crossing over into unchartered territory of other peoples’ work.
- Setting boundaries creates opportunities to succeed. Once employees know what belongs to them and what belongs to others, stress levels decrease, and confidence builds, as does expertise. They become subject matter experts.
- Setting boundaries empowers you, as well as them. When employees ‘see’ and ‘feel’ the difference in their performance it’s empowering and actually builds self-confidence. In turn, you will ‘see’ and ‘feel’ the difference in how they react and respond to you. Thus, by empowering others, they empower you.
- Setting boundaries increases trust (see #4). Helping others achieve their goals, increases their trust in you, and your ability to lead effectively.
‘Mending Wall’, exemplifies two men coming together each year to mend the broken wall and the act itself helps build and strengthen their relationship.
Boundaries, like mending walls don’t merely mark where one territory stops and another begins. They provide opportunities to renew and strengthen your company and your culture.