Where do rules that prevent from change come from ?

The question is nothing new. How many times did we  hear “we can’t change, we’ve always done like that” or “this is the rule so I obey”.

Even if it means to set the cat among the pigeons, I’m sure that with a closer look  it would become clear that some so-calles rules are useless if not counter-productive today. I say today because in many cases they made sense when they  were edicted but don’t anymore.

He are a few eloquant examples.

Rules being born from a non-necessity

Since some things were useless in a given context, at a given time, no one tried to facilitate them. Worse, step by step, inconciouly, things were done in order to make them impossible, in order to prevent people from wasting their time doing useless things. And it slowly began a part of the management culture.

The typical example is employees to business and employees to employees. communication. Useless in the 50s, essential today. But mile away from the existing culture.

Rules being born from an impossibility

There are many things that have long been suitable but impossible. Like, for example, letting people help themselves to solve local problems, coordinate people’s efforts, share and give everyone’s status visibility. So palliatives have been set up like the famous “monday morning meeting”,  the many situation reviews we have on every project (to such an extent we think having reviews and updates  IS the project), all the intermediation that exist exchanges. Today we can get rid of much of that because we have communiation means that makes it possible, but they remain as habits. Generally speaking, the list of the procedures due to a physical limit that still remain once the limit has disappeared is amazing.

Rules being born from a temporary insufficiency

I remember of a situation I had to face in a “previous” life. A manager had to deal with new international issues with an east european country he didn’t speak the language, with people who didn’t speak either a word of english of french. So an assistant was hired who, on top of being a classical assistant, was also fluent in the language in question, so she was able to check / translate / validate what was said with this client. A few years later he was promoted to another job and his successor who had spent ten years in the country in question didn’t need his assistant to check his documents and mails. But the informal process of having everything checked by the assistant was still there… The manager couldn’t understand why he had to be “controled” by his assistant and she didn’t understant either why he tries to bypass her. And nobody remembered the very reason of this process…

Situations where security are added to face a given constraint and still remain after the constraint has disappeared are also very frequents.

We can also mention all the “close control procedures” dating back to the times employees where not a qualified as now, less autonome and whose work couldn’t be controled remotely.

Globally speaking, this rules are oftent related to autonomy, trust, communication…everything that is central in many enterprise issues now.

However, it may be useful to understand why these rules that are often informal and not directly related to production issues are so hard to get rid of. The answer is that, in many cases, there were local responses to local issues that spread informally or by unconscious imitation. But, contrary to heavy production procedures, they didn’t come from any “method department”, were documented nowhere so don’t have any real owner who could improve or change them. That what makes them so hard to apprehend in an organizational cartesian logic.

Worse, in most cases people who complain from these rules often don’t know they had nothing official…

Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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