Everyone Wants to Know the Rules

The fundamental modus operandi of any kindergarten teacher on the first day of school is to establish the rules for the classroom. Yet, often times rules are not salient in many organizations.

Even the anarchist, rioters, and hooligans want to know the rules. It is important for them to know how crazy and outlandish they must go to gain the attention and notoriety they seek. Rules establish a frame of reference from which to plan, scheme, and question.

Why then do highly functioning organizations often times fail to make the rules clear to their people? Without such rules no one knows the expectations and realities that must be challenged to move the organization to the next phase. This is why  upper management must set rules so their people  know where the boundaries lay and what is considered off sides.

Guidelines to establish rules:

Less is More

There is an inverse relationship with the number of rules established and the relative importance of each rule. For each additional rule created, means the other rules realize less value. Keep it simple as the rules that are established will bolster culture and expectations.

Rules and Policies are Not the Same

Rules should not have to be  referenced by a manual. Everyone should know how to play the game and what is acceptable  without reverting back to the rule book after every play. Policies are reserved for the internal nuances and one-off situations that might not be encountered regularly.


Clear communication regarding rules, consequences, and expectations must be established before implementation. Rules in a vacuous environment are useless. They must be living and enforceable.

If an organization is to be efficient and sustainable, all parties must know the rules and how to play the game. Employees who know what is acceptable, expected, and desired will be more willing and likely to move the ball down the court in a way that is advantageous to the organization while avoiding unneeded friction. In sum, establish rules that are salient to the organizational stake holders and enforce rules that bolster the organization’s mission in an ethical fashion.

-Justin A. Burger, MBA

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