Are rules really bringing discipline to your organization?

A household is governed by rules.

We enter school-an institution where rules are sacred.

Break rules in the college and you are suspended by evening.

Companies have a set of rules where the 1st one says: “The boss is always right!”

We live in a society where it is mandatory to abide by the rules of the government.

Government. Oops! This institution designs the rules. Now whether the government itself follows the rules is an under-the-table topic. I say under-the-table because over-the-table has become a little hard after the surprise gift to India in November.

*Totally unrelated: Corruption is still thriving. Only a few countrymen died and the GDP has gone for a swim. That’s all. You can still pay half the tax and get away by flinging some stacks of pink notes (:P) at the desi officer.*

Anyway, back on track.

During my tenure as a teacher, where I taught kids in grade 3 and 4, there was a boy called Atulya who would never go by what’s on the timeline and certainly was punished by every teacher that came to class. He would whine and rant, his parents would be called and he would ultimately be sent to the counsellor to calm down. Some of you can totally relate to it, can’t you? If you too were a hassle back in the days, kudos to you! You learnt a lesson which people take half a century to come to terms with. The lesson is that rules don’t define a system.

Let me confess, I too was mischievous. I would dance with my kids at class parties before the vacations even when we were strictly asked to maintain distance. Sometimes I would catch the kids playing in the class and instead of stopping them, I would feel like playing with them. What’s the harm? As long as you are able to maintain the balance, you are good to go right?

Let me explain it to you.

If we look at the trinity in the Indian mythology- Bramha, Vishnu and Shiva, Bramha is the creator, Vishnu-the preserver, and Shiva is the destroyer.

Let’s take the case of Vishnu. Refer to the image below. He is a deity with a shell in one hand which symbolizes communication, a wheel in one hand- symbol of reviewing, mace is one hand-symbol of maintaining discipline and lotus in another hand which symbolizes the virtue of appreciation.

He, in this avatar, comes across as the perfect leader. But what is noteworthy is that a list of rules is missing. So how does he discipline the subjects?

Devdutt Pattanaik explains this beautifully by deconstructing the different avatars of Vishnu. He exclaims that every rule exists in a context. By having fixed rules an organization is restricting its employees to follow a rigid guideline which might not work in the long run and lead to the fall of a company. So instead of having fixed rules, there has to be one fixed overarching principle according to which the entire organization in unison is working. The rules set have to be according to a context.

In the Indian mythology, this context is explained with the help of yugas (eras). It is said that there are 4 yugas or phases- youth, maturity, old age and senility. This also represents the phases of a corporation. All these yugas have different sets of rules which are based on a principle, common to all of them-Dharma. Each yuga has different heroes. One has Ram-the ideal king who sacrificed his happily married life to lead by example and be a good king to his subjects. He is a one-woman man, ever loving and a dedicated king at the same time. In the next one we have Krishna who has many wives but still fulfills his duty in a righteous manner and abides by Dharma. So, we have two different Gods going by the same principle but have different rules according to the context and times in which they exist.

An organization has a lifecycle with different phases and all the phases must have different rules based upon a common principle which is in line with the overall goal of the organization.

I am not raising a question on the existence of rules, what is required is that there should be flexibility in the organization to work around a common goal with a common principle in mind while still adhering to the requirements and conduct. And if you think that by breaking a certain rule you can benefit the organization in a manner, go ahead, break it and set an example. No successful entrepreneur followed a well-defined path instead, they created one.