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The unwritten rules in a Company: Who, What & Why?

Unwritten Company Rules are the routines or behaviours followed by the majority of the employees, sometimes they may not align with the organisational expectations, values, or any code of conduct. It can simply be described as employee’s belief of ‘this is the way we do things here’. This ‘perception’ is powerful enough to drive behavioural change in people but often not openly spoken about. These unwritten rules are equally as important as any written rules.

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These rules are created in several ways – people watch what gets noticed, what does not get noticed and for any differences in terms of what people say and what they do. Actions speaks louder than words and people will follow exhibited patterns of behaviour rather than follow the organisations corporate mission and vison statements. 

These unwritten rules could be positive or negative. Positive rules underpin teams that are lean, and agile. On the other hand, if a team is not functioning well and there is a great deal of internal conflict, there is no doubt that negative unwritten rules will be in place.

The traditional signs of good culture are the core values of the business, the Mission and Vision statements as well the customer service standards. Where possible Company’s values and priorities should be so well engrained that each team member can name them and be prepared to adapt them, if necessary.

Top 5 ways of identifying organisations impacted with negative unwritten rules

High staff turn-over rate

No identifiable or clearly defined & understood core values

Leaders and managers not leading by example

Unfriendly competition between employees

Inconsistencies between what people say and do

Organisations with good culture find ways to empower team members to make correct decisions themselves, rather than having to be reined in by management. One of the best examples of this is Netflix. Netflix doesn’t measure employee’s effort by work hours, but by the end-product. This is simply because they trust their employees! Their organisational culture defined and articulated in a 124-page slideshow known as ‘Netflix Culture: Freedom & Responsibility’.

We are all beginning to realise  that there is often no one solution to everything and no one-size fits-all. We are all on a journey where we are re-examining our beliefs and challenging set notions, what may have worked in the past, possibly won’t work now. Making it important for organisations to self-evaluate in order to identity negative culture and come up with ways to address the issues.

Introduce Feedback Systems

Open and inclusive communication is one of the shared foundations of good company cultures. Both “top down” and “bottom up”

Many companies overlook the need for feedback from employees either because management presumes, they are doing everything right, or if they are not, they do not want to hear about it.

Improved work practices

Many organisations are on a mission to help transform the way their team think about their work by creating an environment where people have a sense of belonging and they are given the tools and support to make meaningful change and deliver results with impact. Effective and engaged team members are the key to business productivity and therefore success.

Retention

This isn’t just about retaining and engaging people within the business, it is broader as retention is also about retaining the culture of the business and ensuring the culture isn’t disrupted negatively.

This is where the saying that ‘One Bad Apple Spoil a Bunch’ is often true. Retention is great but retention of company culture is greater, and we all need to move forward in way where there is a meaningful connection and improved performance for the business.

It comes full circle as high-retention workplaces tend to employ more engaged team members who, in turn, get more done. Engaged staff are more likely to improve customer relationships, teams that have come together and feel that they belong tend to be more productive.

Transparency

This is key and most often the most difficult for some businesses to embrace. Transparent businesses encourage the companywide flow of communication and information, which can range from simple employee feedback to sharing profit and loss statements.

Unfortunately, many businesses operate a closed approach to sharing and even have intentional deceit within team members. Instead of playing by equal rules, there is performance assessment often based on subjective interpretation and bias.

Greater transparency brings together individuals and teams, putting everyone on the same page in forwarding the company’s mission and vision. This is a proven strategy for enhancing performance and retaining talented employees.

Continuous Culture Assessment

Despite every organisation and leaders’ best intentions and efforts certain ‘bad’ apples will exist. In every business there is a person or several individuals who damage the business, sometimes fatally until it's too late.

This is the reason why every organisation must make time to continuously check the pulse of its employees to ensure that the corporate statement of the organisation remains strong both in words and in deeds.

Many organisations understand that culture remains the foundation to business success which is why its corporate vision statements and values are often clearly communicated but they often fail to pay attention to the unwritten rules.

It is often said that the true source of organisational culture are the structures, processes, technology and most importantly the leadership style and behaviour of its managers. Therefore, its important organisations identify these unwritten rules, create positive rules and ensure that managers ‘walk the walk’ demonstrating their commitment to the organisation’s values.  

Safaraz Ali, Author of Canny Bites Business Books, Host of Canny Conversations Podcast

Safaraz Ali, Featured in the Business Influencer Magazine