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Why hidden rules are blocking the growth of your company?

Why Hidden Rules Are Blocking The Growth Of Your Company

 Rules are essential in any society. We agree to drive on the same side of the road. We queue when waiting for the bus. We offer our seats to the elderly on the bus. Breaking these rules leads to a fine or perhaps an argument.

In organisations too, rules are explicitly defined. Some are there for the safety of the employees, like no smoking. Others are about ways to work together efficiently, like starting on time and being productive during business hours.

The intention of the rules is to make the company more productive. If a rule doesn’t contribute to a better way of working, then it should be reviewed and adapted or dropped.

However, there are also ‘hidden’ rules, rules that are not visible or listed in any employee contract. Here we’re talking about behaviour or actions that became a rule over time. These rules are deeply rooted in the history of the company, even long after the person who started them has left. They might have a big impact on the performance of your organisation as people often stay loyal to these rules, mostly on an unconscious level. Hidden rules are patterns that are installed in the organisation and block its flow and full potential.

These hidden rules protected the organisation at some point but, in complex and uncertain times, new rules and patterns are needed. Rules that are supportive of the growth of the business. But if you aren’t even aware of those rules, you can’t change them.

Examples of hidden rules:

  • We avoid conflicts in our company. So if somebody isn’t performing, we give their tasks to somebody else instead of talking to the employee who’s underperforming.

  • If a customer says “No” or is hesitating over our offer, we immediately reduce the price of our products or services to close the deal (at any cost).

  • If there’s a conflict, people go directly to the CEO to complain rather than talk to their manager first.

  • Every meeting starts 7 minutes late, nobody is on time and you never need to be prepared for a meeting.

What’s the impact of hidden rules rooted in your organisation?

Hidden rules can have a huge impact on the performance of your organisation. People aren’t as productive as they could be, there’s a lot of conflict going on, some people are frustrated, people are taking shortcuts to get deals signed in a way that harms the organisation…

Most of the time, the business leader or the employees sense that there’s something wrong but they can’t quite put their finger on it. The management team tries to solve this friction but as they can’t find the real issue, the solutions they implement don’t really have any effect.

It’s also hard to change or adapt these rules as people are unconsciously loyal to them.

How to deal with hidden rules?

Gather the management team to talk about the hidden rules at play in the organisation. By adding the topic ‘Hidden rules’ to the meeting invite you’ll already start the process of spotting hidden rules.

First, it’s important to create a safe place where people can express their feelings without judgement.

Ask the audience to think about the following questions:

  • What are the hidden rules at play in the organisation?

  • When did they become law?

  • Who defines that?

  • Why are those rules present?

  • What happens if those rules are breached?

  • What do those rules contribute to?

  • Who benefits from those rules?

  • What’s the cost of having those rules?

Answering these questions will make the hidden rules visible. Once they are visible, the impact on the organisation will also be clear and opportunities to review and adapt the rules will emerge to unlock the full potential of the organisation.

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