Knowledge workers are often frustrated at the lack of progress in their desired career path, despite doing everything right, everything that was asked. Leaders are often frustrated after having implemented a program for change and discovering that the problem being addressed worsened. What happened?

Unwritten rules.

Every company has a set of published rules. You can even describe them as guidelines, statements of business ethics, value sets, mission statements, etc.  Every company also has a set of UNPUBLISHED, unwritten,  rules that matter as much or more. Certainly the published rules or guidelines must be implemented. So, too must the unwritten rules.

Those unwritten rules will vary by company and by the pesonalities within the company. It would be impossible for me to make a list of “THE rules”, since there is no definitive rule set for unwritten rules. I’m beginning to go in circles trying to explain the unwritten rules. Instead, let’s work with some examples to make the point of this Nugget:

  1. Though equally qualified for promotion, you lose out to a colleague. Why? Your management team liked the fact that your colleague behaved a bit more “politically correct” than you do. Or that he or she came from a wealthy family and management prefers to hob-nob with people of their kind.
  2. Your colleague was given a larger raise than you though you and your colleague are identical in every way, across all performance, far exceeded all your goals, etc. There appears, on the surface, to be no explanation. Why the extra compensation to your colleague? Management may have appreciated your colleague’ willingness to negotiate or to sell his or her contributions, whereas you may not have made the effort to do that.
  3. People getting promoted are not the top performers. Why? Maybe they do a better job at keeping the boss informed. Maybe they do a better job of preventing “fires” from reaching the boss’s boss? Maybe they perform their job in ways that please the boss whereas you are hardcore and get the job done in the best way possible despite it creating some discomfort, or, at times, even embarrassment for your boss.
  4. The company preaches about the benefits of being a generalist in management and provides incentives to take courses that would help broaden knowledge to help those along the way to becoming a generalist. But the generalists are not getting promoted. Why? The company values and rewards specialists.
  5. Everything you know about the company screams “Innovate!”  However, there is very little, or worse, no innovation taking place. Why?  Over time executives were almost literally crucified if they exceeded their division or department budgets and the best rewards went to executives who achieved year-end results that exceeded forecasts while spending was below budgets.
  6. Six Sigma programs encourage the sharing of ideas and innovations to help rapidly deploy and diffuse them throughout the company. One would think those that cooperate by presenting their great and precious ideas in ways to facilitate replicability, (the spreading of the idea throughout the company), would get the greatest rewards. Instead, they hardly get an acknowledgement and the juiciest rewards go to the isolationist, the individual who holds his or her ideas close to the chest.
  7. Management dangles relatively large financial rewards, or awe-inspiring travel incentive trips, for the achievement of a specific business goal or a sales forecast. Yet, the productivity needle barely registers any impact from this incentive. Why?  It is discovered that employees  of that division are much more motivated from management engagement or weekly team social events, or some other factor that can be uncovered if management was more tuned into employee satisfiers.
  8. A formal review program was implemented to encourage, select and support the best of the most innovative ideas and opportunities, yet, the pace of innovation deteriorated. Why? The company had a history of innovating by those who were highly creative but somewhat radical and whose motivation could only be fuelled within metanoic teams. [Use search box for “Metanoic” to read more about how to excite your knowledge workers.]