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How To Break The Rules To Work Better

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Do we have to resign ourselves to the 9-5 grind within our cubicle walls? Do we have to accept that “business as usual” is the norm and without great organizational leadership that can’t be changed? Do we have to accept that with little to no authority we can’t change anything about the place we work?

We can find ways around restrictive systems, policies and procedures that allows our ideas to flourish and changes our organizations for the better. You don’t have to be in a position of power to change your workplace. The very definition of work is being changed by new technology and the flattening of hierarchical structures of power.

Traditionally, work has been associated with bureaucratic processes, monotonous and repetitive actions within a highly structured hierarchical environment. As technology and external forces (i.e. globalization) change the world around us, they are changing the very places we work. We are being asked to think faster, work harder and process more information often with less resources and less staff.

Organizations, especially the public service, are finding it challenging to keep up and continually innovate to meet the needs of citizens in a digital world. You might recognize the signs in your own organization: inefficiencies, lack of insight, lack of strategic direction, failure to capitalize on opportunities to innovate or stagnation. These are signs of an organization struggling to keep up with the world around them. But here’s the thing, you don’t have to be senior management in order to change how things work.

Be the disruptive worker and break the rules to work better. Do something different and do it in a way that demonstrates its true value. Don’t be afraid of failure (and yes there will be failure) but most importantly don’t be defined by the rules and processes that govern your work.

Here are a few examples I’ve tried:

1) Identify something about your work (i.e. software, hardware) that makes worker harder than it should be. Try an alternative and see what it does to your productivity and efficiency. Record the outcome of this experiment and share it with your IT staff and your management team. Demonstrate value, in terms of “money saved” as a result of the hardware or software switch.

2) Identify bad or missing policies in your workplace. Think about ways to improve or fix the situation and the associated benefits of doing so. Go ahead and do it if you can. If you can’t do it, then fully think out the solution and present a clear and articulate plan to implement the solution. Present your findings and solution to senior management and sell the idea. Demonstrate the financial and productivity gains realized by creating or fixing a policy.

3) Take advantage of collaborative tools such as wikis and social media. These sites can be used to not only improve your organization but for your own professional development. Invite co-workers and your extended network to participate in online discussions. Make the problem solving process more collaborative and inclusive. Use the vast resources offered by the social media community of your field to bring in new knowledge to your organization. There is no need to re-invent the wheel when many other people have tried an idea. Learn from the community and contribute back to it when you can.

4) Don’t be afraid to speak up. Remember that I said you will fail as you embark to change work but failure is not necessary a bad thing. Don’t be afraid of failure. Speak up and let your voice be heard. Organizations need everyone to be in the innovation mindset if they hope to stay fresh, relevant and up to date. All of us, from the mail room clerk to the Deputy Minister have an obligation to try new things and keep pushing for continuous innovation. If we don’t, then our organization cannot stay relevant.

Be wary as you push the line. You will technically be breaking rules, policy or process. However, as long as you aren’t breaking the law you will be fine. New ideas don’t take hold without pushing the line a little bit. Remember, our goal is to replace existing systems to the benefit of everyone in the organization. Whether or not you are pushing the line doesn’t mean that someone somewhere is finding a way around a restriction or doing their own form of rule breaking.

Worst case scenario: you tried to improve work for everyone and despite failing you learned a lot in the process. Best case scenario, you look like a model employee.

Of course, despite the risk, would you rather just grumble about your cubicle job or actually do something about it?

Scott McNaughton, thenewbureaucracy.ca and govstories.tumblr.com

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Julie Chase

1. Won’t work. There is an IT policy in place, directive/order/policy. So it is written, so it shall be done. Why? Security reasons. Been there, done that. Fail. Oh, and what IT staff? They are in another building bound by their own directives/orders/policy.

2. My manager, thankfully, is a visionary. Uses the directives/orders/policies as a tool to get things done, that others have only “picked the fruit” out of the words that suit them.

3. “Invite co-workers and your extended network to participate in online discussions. Make the problem solving process more collaborative and inclusive.” Will this be done during “working hours”? Online discussions? From where? Not allowed to blog, chat or discuss during working hours with “extended networks”.

4. Yeah, speaking up is good only if you want a spanking down. It will get you nowhere.

Breaking an “order” “directive” is a big deal in DoD, DoN. Not a good idea.

Kanika Tolver

1. Learn to be a smart Corporate Rebel.

2. Learn how to play the game and remain in control.

3. Stay a in demand employee at all times. Be the MVP of the team.

4. Speak up with solutions to the problems.

5. Be true to yourself and learn how to be a actor only when the time is needed.

Kanika Tolver

Follow me on Twitter @CareerDropout

Holla BACK!

Scott McNaughton

Hi Julie,

Places that deal with national security or secret files fall under much different restrictions than your typical Department/Agency. I don’t agree with your assessment that it’s bad to break the rules. We can’t innovate, we can’t change things if we don’t break the rules. There’s a difference between “stretching” the boundary (testing the limits) and outright engaging in behaviour that hurts your organization.

To illustrate it better. If you are “breaking the rules” but the end result is helping your organization and not hurting anyone, is it bad? I’d argue it isn’t. In the case of national security (like DoD) the rules of engagement change and I suggest you tread lighter. Please always remember that your specific situation (DoD) is much different than others reading (say someone from EPA).

Julie Chase

Scott, my computer is “unclassified”. So are all the others in my organization. My work isn’t “top secret”. I’m in DoN, the sub of DoD and in a lower sub agency lower than that. As a low GS on the food chain….I follow directives/orders/policies given to me by the “higher powers”, passed down through the agency and so on down the ladder to my manager, who gives them to me. Every PD, every organization has a written policy/directive…this is what you follow when doing everything from procurement to payroll. Programs for you to do your work are right there on your desktop and are the only ones allowed. DoD is also on the chopping block vs other agencies. Innovation costs, DoD is downsizing.