By the book

Rigid rules and procedures are killing companies’ relationships with employees and customers

Enrique Dans
Apr 11, 2014 · 3 min read

My column this week in Expansión Spain’s, leading financial daily, is called “By the book” (pdf in Spanish), and is about companies that take rule observance to the limit: internal and external procedures, rigid regulations and all types of questions ostensibly aimed at keeping things in order and reducing abuses, but that in practice simply make life difficult for everybody, and creating situations that at times can border on the surreal.

I come across companies like this every day, where the rules are written in stone and interfere with getting things done, rather than allowing common sense to apply, or letting directors and managers make decisions using their own judgement. In an environment where information is ever-more available and communication processes are faster and more agile, it makes no sense to convert companies into ministries with tight restrictions on our freedom of action. By-the-book companies, and above all, directors who do everything by the book are stuck in the last century, and the logic of a world that increasingly works along conversational lines means that they are doomed to extinction.

Below, the full text:

By the book

The spread of an environment where information is easier than ever to access and analyze increasingly comes up against the brick wall of how many companies still operate: rigid procedures and systems: by the book.

The tendency to work in this way was very popular in many enterprises at the end of the last century: an excess culture reflecting the boom times we were living through then, and one that imposed growing pressure to generate savings, the results of which led to procedures controlling cost, resource assignment, and a thousand other things. The only way to avoid misuse and abuse was by imposing Prussian discipline.

And it was the same when it came to dealing with the outside world: this is my price, this is my offer, this is how far I will go. That’s it. My way or the highway. So what’s wrong with that approach? In the first place, we are all different: both employees and customers, but this isn’t a one-size fits all world. At the same time, this isn’t about being treated “democratically”, it’s about being treated as individuals. The value of a customer or an employee can vary greatly. Companies need to be sufficiently flexible to deal with this.

Furthermore, there is a serious problem here: what is the point of having well-trained and experienced directors if we then do not let them take decisions on their own criteria, and instead require them to do everything by the book. What point is there in forcing a director to behave like a telesales assistant, reading from a script? In an environment where we have more access to information than ever, and the ability to analyse it more quickly than before, the days of doing things by the book are numbered. Businesses who are not able to develop flexible procedures are doomed.

(En español, aquí)

    Enrique Dans

    Written by

    Professor of Innovation at IE Business School and blogger at

    Enrique Dans

    On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at since 2003)

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