How Rules Affect a Corporate Culture

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 The corporate culture of an organization is the difference between a great place to work and one that is constantly working to retain good talent.  While the culture of an organization is something that is talked about quite a bit, I am always surprised how many organizations are not pro-actively creating a great culture that cultivates the type of employees they desire.  While corporate culture is usually thought of as a top down initiative, it can be cultivated from within by middle management or even general employees.  The challenge that businesses face is to ensure that the culture being created corresponds to the mission, vision, and strategic direction of the company.

Rules Rules Rules

I was recently talking to a friend that works in a call center environment and we were discussing the rigidness of expectations management has on employees.  Call centers face some unique challenges in that employees must constantly be available to handle the never ending feed of incoming calls.  Therefore, many call centers around the world have a set of defined rules their employees must stay within.  

For example, my friend's company gives each employee 8 minutes a day for bathroom breaks, two 15 minute breaks a day where employees have 1 minute and 59 seconds in which they can be late, and one half-hour lunch, again with a 1 minute and 59 second window to clock back in.  If an employee is outside of any of these pre-established parameters, they will be written up.

This philosophy of "rigid rules" is often applied in manufacturing as well.  The idea is that if someone is late, the whole line will be held up, which is a hit to the bottom line.  I have even heard of factories that have a three strike attendance rule for the lifetime of an employee - once you have been late three times during your career at the company, you are fired. Period.

Culture Establishes a Mindset

While I understand the need for these rules, I have to think about how this rigidness of rules in discipline affect the culture of the organization.  As I talked with my friend about the rigid rules in his company, he was explaining the system they have for "writing up" employees.  

His company has a clear discipline plan for violations of rules, and there are even different "levels" in such that being written up for attendance is not the same as being written up for not meeting your sales goals.  The result of this structure is that the majority of employees are written up for one reason or another. But how does this affect the culture of the company?

If a "rigid rule-based" company is not pro-active in designing a culture, the company may turn into a miserable place to work.  Employees may become constantly in fear for their jobs.  Passion will be lost as the focus is on the negative parts of an employees performance.

Culture is Choosing Your Focus

If the result of a companies policies and procedures is such that the negative elements of performance are always focused on, this is going to have a major affect on the organization.  No one wants to be criticized and if the only focus is criticism, people will begin to become unhappy.

Don't you prefer to work for someone who values your strengths?  

A leader in a rule-based company has a challenging task.  They must ensure efficiency, but they also must remember that they are working with humans.  The tendency in rule-based industries is to treat employees like robots.  This works great for efficiencies, but is a disaster in developing a culture where great talent is drawn to, and retained. 

In order to accomplish this, leaders must look to effectiveness rather than efficiency.  Being a bit less efficient may actually result in greater effectiveness through decreased turnover, passionate employees, and increased productivity.  The culture of an organization, when done correctly, can be a great asset to the bottom line.