The Treachery of The “Unwritten Rule”
Have you ever worked for an organization in which there was an “unwritten rule”?
These are usually practices outside the norm of standard procedures. Quite often, they are usually discovered by someone within their first couple of years in the company, when a unique situation arises.
Then someone pulls you aside and says, “We have an unwritten rule about this...” and tells you what you should do at this point.
Unwritten rules may have an intended purpose, but they create some unintended consequences:
- They may run contrary to other sound policies and procedures in place – sometimes these rules go against practices for expediency, which is why they’re unwritten in the first place.
- Their execution can undermine trust – they communicate to staff that when all else fails, or when roadblocks occur, then there is another set of standards. This send mixed signals to your people.
- They can send conflicting messages throughout your organization – “when all goes to script we do X, but when the script goes out the window, we do Y”. These rules say “we make up the rules as we go”.
- They expose holes in processes and systems that need to be tidied up – you’ll need to examine your procedures and make sure your systems are congruent with your mission.
- Oftentimes they support a person who is subverting the system – because if it was a written rule, they’d be transparent. Unwritten rules many times hide devious workplace behavior.
There may always be an unwritten rule here and there that fall through the cracks. If that happens, by all means work to weave them into the operations. However, check every unwritten rule to make sure they don’t undermine your core values, and what the rationales are for them being there. If they fail to support your mission, then these “unwritten rules” need to be “written off”.
What are the “unwritten rules” in your organization? Identify them, qualify them, then write them off or write them in.