Unwritten Rules

They are everywhere, in all parts of society. Defined as behavioral constraints imposed in organizations or societies that are not typically voiced or written down. Thanks, Wikipedia! They usually exist in unspoken and unwritten formats because they form a part of the typical day-to-day. Examples range from childhood “Don’t’ talk to strangers” to the workplace “Nobodies happy if the boss isn’t happy” to LinkedIn “Don’t post religious or political stuff here!” 

Some of these are good and even wise, but in your organization, particularly the sales and customer service teams, it is worth the time to ask first, what are the unwritten rules? Moreover, second, do they serve our customers and us? The funny thing about an organization’s unwritten rules (good or bad) is that they define the organization’s culture in the eyes of its customers and employees, not the stuff on your firm’s website! 

Having worked for company that valued gross margins, an unwritten rule was “Don’t lower pricing until the customer complains twice.” In another company, “We don’t’ ever fire people here for poor performance .” As a consumer, I recently experienced what I believe is an unwritten rule of a service provider I use. “When a customer voices a complaint or wants to cancel, remind them of the service’s features.” If that does shut them up, “Send them a copy of the service agreement telling them you can’t do anything for them.” 

Here are a few more common ones I see often: 

“We don’t’ promote from within.” 

“We don’t hire from the outside.” 

“If it’s not in the CRM, it didn’t happen.” 

“If they aren’t in the office, they’re not working.”

“First to arrive/last to leave is the most productive/loyal.”

“This generation wants too much money and has no experience.” 

“Can’t trust the sales team.”

So, what to do with these unwritten rules? First, if the unwritten rule makes sense and benefits the company, staff, and the customer, codify it by clarifying the rule in writing to include why it’s suitable for everyone, then communicate and publish it for everyone to see.  

Okay, so what do you do with the unwritten rules that aren’t so pretty? The ones that don’t benefit the customer, the company, or the staff. Well, the first place to look is in the mirror. Is this rule a belief or convection you have? Why do you feel this way? Is it your rule or someone else’s? 

To find out what the source and effects of unwritten rules are, email me at Les@LesLent.com and put ‘Rules’ in the subject line, and I’ll send you a free cultural assessment tool to find out!