When do we need rules?

Daniel Reed
March 10, 2014

I’ve just completed my first week at OptimalBI and my main focus was to understand the business, people and culture. Until now my working life has been predominantly public sector, so I’m pretty familiar with hierarchies, policies and the reasons they exist. With Optimal they believe in a lack of rules, instead relying on a set of philosophies: ‘Don’t be dodgy’ and ‘Shit Hot Customer Service’ – Adhere to these and the rest is your own decision-making. This got me thinking ‘When do we need rules?’
To start with it’s important not to confuse business process with rules – in my view process is a guideline to make customer experience consistent and repeatable, rules are there to ensure unacceptable actions aren’t taken.
In an organisation, there will be a diverse set of views – rules are put in place to make sure things don’t get chaotic. Rules are appropriate when the repercussions or risks of not taking action are deemed too high, which can also come in the form of laws and legislation. They’re implemented to control people and to limit their actions that could be detrimental to themselves, others or the business. E.g. ‘Don’t put your hand in that blender’ or ‘Don’t put beer in the dog bowl’ – I was 6 and the dog lived a long happy life, except for the hangover.
Bad childhood decisions aside, my new role is part of a company that aims to implement as few rules as possible – it works, they rely on trust – but can it be maintained as it grows? It’s an organisation with a team that knows each other, rules are minimal because any issues can be talked out and addressed immediately, the culture is open, honest and with the right amount of respect. With the current size it works well but as the company gets bigger can the culture be kept? It relies heavily on recruiting the right people and inducting them to understand why you do what you do and how they help with that. The concept of the ‘right people’ is hard to define and it differs for each business – it relies on getting to know someone and their motivators – this can be difficult when it’s people you haven’t worked with before. If their drivers and experience align with the business then it’s a good match, skills can always be learnt assuming they have an interest in the subject and you have the time to teach them.
As a company grows, rules are eventually inevitable to maintain harmony but it’s important to really think about them – only implement rules that are necessary, where the risk or repercussion isn’t acceptable. Rules should never be made up out of frustration or for one person. They should be for the greater good of the business or it’s members.
What’s the benefit of less rules? Rules generally push people down a linear path to reach an end. The problem with this is you remove the ability to be creative and innovative for that task. If your business relies on people who create and explore, then more rules lead to less innovation. If you ask for an outcome and leave them to find their own path, they will learn more and maybe find a better way to get there. In some cases a map helps, but only when a task needs to be consistent.
Think about the rules in your company and why they really exist. If you understand the reason for it and it’s beneficial then keep it, if you can’t remember why it’s there then maybe it’s time to get rid of it. Daniel.

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