Let’s talk about rules!
In the big organization, but also a small one, rules are important part of structuring the operations and impose behaviors. Sometimes they are also called policies, directives, orders, requests, guidelines, instructions… All of them have a common purpose to streamline and channel actions to have predictable outcomes that produce a sense of control. They help to comply with legal or company’s regulations.
This is OK.
Nevertheless, let’s be a bit critical!
One characteristic of rules is that they often generalize, i.e. aim to cover wide as much as possible and make people acting similarly. In that case, different needs have to compromise (and sub-optimize) accordingly. To take a blunt example: when company wants to reduce travel costs, every department has a percentage to reduce. For customer support and deployment department that would release a bit of pressure of traveling to customers… and will cause slow deployment … and sales (being cynical on purpose here).
The second characteristic of rules is the source and ownership. Management (middle management) is responsible to apply and execute rules, while usually the Human Resources department (and higher management) create them. Well, somebody needs to do it and it needs to make sure about their execution compliance. One “happy hour” example is the working hours policy – well known helper in the SW industry (tell programmers to work from 09-17h).
The third characteristic is that rules are limiting. More rules means more limitations and borders which kills creativity and reduce a need to communicate. It boxes us into our area of responsibility and expertise thus creating the place to locally optimize a part of operations on the account of the whole flow. It creates a need to well specify, document and handover a part of work under our responsibility which is a pretty accurate definition of waste – please see the post about it!
The fourth characteristic of rules is their age. They have tendency to stick and stay as long as the management that created them is there to influence their life-cycle. It goes even beyond…:-(
The next characteristic is the heaviest one and is a consequence of the previous: rules create a conformance culture which goes against continuous improvement and innovative mindset.
The next characteristic… perhaps it’s enough!
The following quote well illustrates where the company following the rules is heading to:
If you want to shut down an org, the best way is for people to stop working. The 2nd best way is for everyone to just follow the rules.