Here at ADLIB we’re constantly challenging the way in which we work to maximise our productivity. This doesn’t mean pushing people until they can’t physically give any more, for us it means recruiting the right people, with the same shared behaviours that will operate effectively in our environment. Sure rules exist for a reason but there is real evidence as to why they can hinder productivity.

“Many of our workplace ‘rules’ don’t actually support the aims of the business, the needs of its customers or our key stakeholders”


To drill deeper into the subject, we caught up with Jane Ginnever at SHIFT to get her take on how to practically take a (or a few) step(s) away from the rule book within your organisation.

ADLIB: The reasons to reduce (or potentially even tear up) that internal rule book sound obvious. But how, how could this shift happen practically?

Jane Ginnever - SHIFTJane Ginnever: Many of our workplace ‘rules’ don’t actually support the aims of the business, the needs of its customers or our key stakeholders. Those rules can be removed with little risk to the future success of the business. In fact I’d argue that by having those unnecessary rules in place, there’s a greater risk that we’re holding back the business.

So how do you work out which rules are necessary and which aren’t? Which can you take away with no detriment to your business and which are essential to its success?

1. Identify unnecessary rules

Examining the reasons that we have some of those rules in place is a good first step. As our article highlights, we often introduce a rule in response to something that’s happened and that we’d rather not address directly. Or we introduce standard HR policies that ‘every business needs to have’ (not true). So we introduce a blanket policy instead of speaking to the individual concerned about what has happened, in the mistaken belief that ‘all’ it will do is stop anything like that happening again.

Before we know it, we’ve built up a whole set of rules that inhibit those people that just want to get on and do a great job. Then we make managers the rule enforcers, which undermines their key role of enabling people to achieve amazing things.

2. Create a framework within which people can operate freely

So we’ve worked out that we just might have introduced some of those rules unnecessarily and that they probably ought to go. But we do want to provide people with some guidance, after all we want to maintain an effective work environment and guidance can often help people feel comfortable that they’re doing the right thing, especially when they’re new to the team.

Unspash---books-writeEven startups have some guidelines, often implicit and often based on the expectations of the founder and the way they like to work. As the team increases in size, the culture develops based on the needs of the business and all of the people involved in it. What’s really useful to put in place at this stage is a clear framework within which everyone has the freedom to work towards their aims.

Being explicit about the way that the company runs and why is a great way to provide that framework. Taking away some of our rules gives us a great opportunity to talk about that and to communicate what we really want from the team (great performance, innovation, responding to customer needs, spotting opportunities for growth).

Often we don’t really give much thought to the way things get done and the way we manage people; it just kind of evolves based on the people we hire and the ideas they bring with them. But there are reasons why companies do the things they do the way they do them.

“Taking away those unnecessary rules is much less risky than you might have thought and leaving them in place may be much riskier”


Setting out our values is one way to provide that explicit guidance, as is developing a clear set of basic principles by which we operate. Developed and communicated effectively these will both provide guidance for every decision that’s made within the business which has the added bonus that as leaders we can devolve decision-making confident that people will have the information they need to make great decisions.

So taking away those unnecessary rules is much less risky than you might have thought and leaving them in place may be much riskier. If you think through these two important points first the sky won’t fall in. And of course if you want to reduce the risk further, you can always get expert advice, or engage a consultant to conduct the review and develop a framework with you. They’re important steps to realising the potential of your team, so it really goes without saying that there’s a huge potential return to be achieved.