It was a wonderful dinner party by and for remodelers. The hosts, a couple who own a remodeling company, started to banter about their differing styles of leadership. She, along with the office manager, wanted to lay down the law to the field staff regarding timely and accurate submission of time cards. The two were tired of having to cajole, beg, and nag for that important information. He, in mock despair, pleaded for patience: “We need these guys.” If the company got too stringent about enforcing procedures, he feared, valued field personnel would walk.

In their big-city location, this company pays $20 per hour for helpers and $28 to $35 per hour for lead carpenters. Their benefits package is very generous, and bonuses are plentiful. Yet they are still having trouble finding as many field personnel as they need to produce their quality work. And, as I discovered at the party, it was affecting their ability to get current field staff to adhere to some basic rules.

I was a guest that night, so I resisted the temptation to put on my consultant's hat. Although the topic seemed pretty trivial, it had deep roots in two areas that are crucial to running a successful business. So let me tell you what the consultant inside was thinking.

Systems Rule The web of systems that a company develops may well be the most valuable part of the business. Systems are the reason entrepreneurs pay huge sums of money to purchase franchises. What does a franchise bring to the table that is different from most traditional remodelers? Hard-won systems.

If you have systems in place, then you've developed a way to do business that helps make success predictable. You simply can't let an employee — even one who is highly valued —take this from you. Because in the end, what do you really have other than your unique way of doing business?

Ultimately, running a successful remodeling company requires you to develop a strong group of systems and procedures, and to then enforce discipline in yourself and your staff to follow them. If everyone who worked at McDonald's was allowed to cook French fries their own way, McDonald's wouldn't be the global success story that it is. If time cards are the way you do business, there is no negotiation. If someone has a better idea, they can suggest it and lobby for it until it is the accepted system.

No Exceptions A second issue is in play when you feel an employee is so valuable that you begin to change the rules just for them — when you feel you can't ask them to adhere to a system. You are being held hostage, and you can't afford to be.

In the dinner party situation above, this issue was relatively mild and elicited lots of lighthearted joking. However, I often work with remodelers who are in tortuous situations with a high-performing individual who won't follow the company rules. In truth, all employees are watching this drama play out to see if rules are fairly applied.

Although you may think you can't survive without this employee, or that you will never be able to replace them, I have learned that taking action to enforce systems and procedures usually has the opposite outcome. Many employees move back into line when challenged. If they don't, it's up to you to “free up their future.” Once you let go of this toxic employee, everyone breathes a sigh of relief — and his or her replacement is often better.

Guard your systems and procedures, and be sure that everyone in your company values them and follows them —including the boss! —Linda Case, CRA, is founder of Remodelers Advantage Inc. in Laurel, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. 301.490.5620;;