Rules Rush In

At work, they are everywhere.

Rules. Instructions. Regulations.
Lists of stuff you must do, stuff you can’t do. We write them up in policies and documents and guidelines and procedures and codes of practice.
Instructions. Directives. Rules.

The problem with rules within organisations is that if you are not very careful, they germinate, breed, develop arms and legs, take on a life of their own. They get tweaked, added to, topped up, supplemented.

A rule is invented and suddenly it is part of the organisational fabric, the culture, never to be challenged of changed. It matters not that the person who made the rule is long gone, or no one remembers the reason it was introduced in the first place. The rule, just is. The rule is alive.

Many organisational rules defy common sense. They have the power to amuse, annoy, demotivate, but most damaging, they have the power to get in the way of productive, useful work.

I recently read about a great example in a book called Peopleware, about an organisation that had a clear desk policy. The only thing that employees were allowed to leave on the desk when they went home at night was a 5 X 7 family photo. Who decided this? And more interestingly, how did they determine the size? Was there a meeting, a vote? Was it included in a handbook?

Rules are made when conversations and common sense fails. And when management fails. Consider the organisations that rushed to ban social media, lest there be just one rogue tweet. The company that stops the Christmas celebrations because of one drunken employee. I am sure you have seen examples in your own organisations.

It is time to throw away unnecessary, silly rules. Some rules are of course needed; the organisational will not function without them. But almost every company I have ever seen has too many. Rules that are too complex, too long, too patronising. They reduce employees to children.

Treat your employees like the adults they are. And if they don’t, then just have a conversation. Deal with the individual issue at hand, don’t make a rule that applies to everyone, for ever.

My new law of rules. If you can’t give me a good reason for the rule, I’m not following it.

My challenge to you: if you don’t know why the rule exists, don’t know who made it, can’t articulate the reason for it, then break it. Ask why. Challenge the rule and the rule maker.

Let HR lead the way.

4 thoughts on “Rules Rush In

  1. I simply don’t know how you manage to write so many effective, clear and eminently sensible business arguments – but I am so glad you do so! Thank you Gem

  2. The ‘drunken employee’ thing is interesting. I used to work in the digital marketing and technology industry. Every event was filled with booze and… we’ll call it ‘abundance’. It was par for the norm to be wasted by the end of the night, and for the following day to be full of a horrendously hungover workforce.

  3. The interesting thing about rules is that the more explicit our rules are, the more rules we need. The more we try to define every rule for every situation and every possible exception, the more complicated it becomes and the more rules we need to add.

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