Barnaby would like to thank Holger Koehler of Monitor Group for his contributions to this column. If you are like most people, you can probably remember your first days on the job. Looking forward to a new challenge and working with a new group of people, you walked through the halls looking for clues, wondering to yourself what is the culture and how do things really work here? Before long, you may have noticed some posters or slogans on the walls - a mission statement, a list of corporate values, maybe even a strategy map - and received some training on organizational policies and procedures. But after some time passed, it dawned on you that some other, more powerful force was at play: a set of unwritten rules dictated by the internal politics of the organization that really governed people’s behavior.

As Peter Scott-Morgan described in his 1994 book Unwritten Rules of the Game, these rules exist in every organization. They are not good or bad per se, but can allow for - or prevent - organizational change. In some cases, they can work against the best wishes of management without them even being aware of their existence. For example, consider the CEO who set out to build a high-performance culture through measurement and transparency and was later surprised to learn that his program was doomed to fail because of the company’s unwritten rule that those who report bad news are associated with failure and rarely get promoted. Not until he was able to understand the existence of the rule and address it constructively - by recognizing and rewarding honesty and problem-solving ability - could he bring about changes in behavior surrounding measurement and accountability.

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