On the diffusion of rule breaking norms to organizational newcomers
Paper in proceedings, 2014
To those interested in managing change in a large, rule-based organization, rule breaking is something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, a change agent might need to circumvent old rules, written to pursue stability and predictability, without having to wait for the rules to be abolished or updated. On the other hand, a change agent in such an organization might need to rely on directives and rules to impose the change, in turn facing rule breaking as a mean of change resistance.
We have investigated how rule breaking is transferred between organizational members, and in particular how employees motivate their rule breaking behaviour. We do this by means of a multiple case study within six Swedish IT companies. We have focused on the diffusion of rule breaking norms onto organizational newcomers, in order to assure that our respondents would be able to more accurately report on the behavior.
Our results show that subjects are typically not directed to break rules, but pick it up when given advice or through observation of other rule breakers. The motives for the rule breaking often regards the performance of their project and thus is in the interest of the organization at large, and our subjects are in general quite relaxed when discussing their ‘crimes’. Thus, our findings support the advocates of the constructive type of rule breaking called ‘pro social rule breaking’.
We discuss the existence of an interpretation system guiding organizational members on how to interpret rules and directives, the lack of feedback to the rule makers on why rules are broken, and the consequences for change agents.