What is it? Why should you do it? How do you do it?
Professional Rule-breaking is 21st century protest: the art of changing the way things are done at work, and getting away with it. When we realise most of the 'rules' of work are bad habits, set by precedents now well past their sell-by date, we begin to realise permission based change is never going to move the needle. Even if you break a small rule, there is a compounding effect that happens when you take back your agency.
Every work place is different, the CRIN story will tell you a bit about charities, and the Mere Mortals code takes down advertising, but in general there are some basic and fundamental similarities in most 21st century organisations that are holding everyone back.
· Many layers of management: making it difficult to put any new idea into practice unless you’re the one in charge. You can’t experiment without having it signed off first. You ‘need’ permission.
· Excess paperwork, process and bureaucracy; good ideas are diluted or killed in email threads, long meetings or complex strategy papers. Enthusiasm is easily and quickly lost.
Too many objectives
· Trying to do too many things to do at once: it’s common in meetings or when working with partners to write down or brainstorm all the possible things we could do. All this means is that people’s time, energy and focus are spread too thin.
· Different teams can’t work together effectively: people and budgets are compartmentalised, meaning even when you do agree on an objective, you’re divided by competing priorities. This prevents the best outcomes and frustrates people.
· Language is often meaningless or inaccessible; strategy papers are usually too long, but professional jargon is a killer. Finding new ways to describe the ‘work’ just means your time-pressed colleagues are less likely to engage with it.
Outputs over impact
An obsession with ‘tangibles’ means you end up chasing or measuring the wrong things so that you can ‘prove’ the work is successful. Once stuck in this cycle it’s hard to break out. If you’re endlessly chasing more money, event attendees or clicks but feel nothing’s actually changing, it’s time to rethink.
· The limitations of your job description; ‘I can’t/shouldn’t do this because it’s not my job’. Do job descriptions keep teams organised or do they stifle creativity? Do they stop you from solving problems because it’s not yours to solve?
What should it look like instead?
In every area of life we’re given almost frightening levels of responsibility, except at work, where we suddenly need managing. To break this rule, employees must be given back trust and responsibility.
Be the judge of your own actions and own up when you make a mistake. By having this culture you will learn thick and fast and work will improve at a more rapid rate, since there is no blame passing, or cover ups. Do it, own it, learn, move on.
We might be proud advocates of free speech, but how often do you bite your tongue at work? Every employee should be able to constructively criticise or voice views that might contradict the normal way of doing things.
Natural inequalities exist and persist of course, what we’re striving for is equal opportunity to be heard, seen, progress and do the best work possible. Are pay rises done secretively? Do you only hear from the loudest voices?
The true power of diversity is multi-faceted; we know we should be employing people from different backgrounds, but what happens when they’re through the door? Do certain types of people get pigeon holed? Do you source your ideas directly from the people they will effect, or do you let the ‘smart people’ have all the ideas? Consider who and what you’re excluding.
This might feel at odds with what work ‘should’ be like, but we’ve heard from enough pirates charting their own course who say that making every day an adventure is one of the most important things you can do. There’s potential for every role and every industry to push boundaries and find a vision to be excited about.
A lot of complexity is unnecessary, and most people neither have the time of capacity to deal with it. Try figuring out one small, simple clink in the chain you can fix, rather than trying to tackle the whole system (think Broken Windows theory) Simple solutions will give clarity, ease pressure and build momentum.
There are hundreds of ways these things play out in workplaces - so, instead of sending your good ideas to their slow death in an email thread, stop asking for permission, and prepare to ask for forgiveness instead. Chart your own course and remember that all it takes to change the rules is for you to prove your new rules work.