You might call them “policies,” “processes,” “procedures,” “guidelines,” or plain old “rules.” Regardless of the name they’re given, I like to know what the rules are. Chances are you do, too. My reason for wanting to know the rules is this: It allows me to decide whether I’m going to follow them, break them, or bend them to my will.
It’s not that I think I’m better than the rules or vice versa. However, I’ve seen enough nonsensical rules to understand that when others (i.e., people who are not me) make rules in response to the actions of other people (also who are not me), then there’s a fair chance those rules don’t apply to me. This inevitably prompts me to wonder: “Where do I fit within the rules?“
This may seem like a cynical sentiment focused on “me.” However, I believe most people at least partially vault through the mental gymnastics I described when confronted with a set of rules. They might not run through the entire calculation, and they may tackle the equation subconsciously. Yet make no mistake, folks are doing some form of analysis.
The Rise or Fall of Rules Within an Organization
Generally, employers don’t think about how employees perceive rules. They simply expect that workers will follow them. That mindset stems from a legacy of command and control leadership methods that ingrain an “employer-first, employee-second” power dynamic.
So, when people decide not to follow the rules, it can leave employers scratching their heads in utter bemusement. While the lack of compliance appears puzzling, it’s really quite simple to understand: Arbitrary rules do not make for strong workplace communities and culture.
Conversely, organizations that directly connect their core values to their rules create powerful communities with a superior culture. The key to their success is the linkage between the values and the rules. It’s not as daunting as it may seem to make those connections; consider the actual rules and how well they hold up.
Ten Questions to Get You Started
- Which of your rules are 100% non-negotiable?
- Which of your rules will you flex in response to human needs and specific situations?
- Who has the authority to flex the rules?
- Does leadership follow the rules?
- Is the entire organization clear about the rules?
- Is context about the rules provided?
- Are the important rules continually and constantly discussed?
- Are the rules enforced consistently?
- Are employees empowered to suggest changes to the rules?
- What mechanisms exist to improve the rules?
Even the best organizations encounter rule-breakers. However, that doesn’t mean you need rules that constantly cater to the lowest common denominator. Nor does it mean you shouldn’t attempt to clarify the rules within the context of your organization’s core values. Doing so may lead you to re-evaluate certain rules and assess their relevancy.
Benefits of a Core Values Connection
Regardless of whether you act on your rules or leave them “as is,” remember this: Employees constantly evaluate the rules and make their own decisions about them.
Moreover, greater clarity and connection between your rules and core values decrease the number of variables in the calculus that employees run through their minds. The stronger the alignment between your rules and core values, the fewer judgment “lapses” and rule-breaking you’ll encounter. Also, rules’ connections to core values create an environment for more productive (and less emotion-driven) conversations focused on what your organization truly values instead of rules that were broken.
Got a question about rules, values, community, and culture? I’m always up for a good discussion, so drop me a line.