We need rule-benders of this world

Nothing changes without them, the rule-benders.


In all my years of consulting on business process across organisations of every size, I was constantly reminded that rules were typically designed with only one or two facets of the problem in mind. They are there to catch the instances of certain things happening that we would rather not happen. And rules also tend to multiply exponentially over time, as do the loopholes.


Usually, this is all very well intentioned. Companies don't want their shareholders' funds used for purposes that have nothing to do with the business. Organisations want to make sure their employees and clients are able to do their work or receive their goods and services safely. Managers want their teams to be productive and measure the statistics that give an indicator of whether things are going well or going poorly.


However, what I've also seen is rules don't work in every situation.


So it's a good thing we have a few rule-benders in this world.


Rule-benders are those people who seem to be a force of nature in and of themselves. They seem to get things done, and get things done for the individual, the edge case, the special scenario, the exception to the rule. And, of course, best rule-benders are those who believe others are the exception to the rule, not themselves.


Maybe these people don't clock in at the time you'd like them to. Maybe they don't give quite as many progress updates or ignore your requests to be 'kept in the loop'. Maybe they talk to people more often than they sit at their desk. Maybe they only work on the things they want to do. Maybe they say things that they shouldn't, politically. Maybe they laugh at your corporate jargon.


However, in their wake, these people often leave solved problems, happy clients, teams that are less frustrated, leaders that are reconsidering their ways. They often have a big impact and you are left wondering how on earth they achieved it.


If you have one of these, my advice would be: handle with care. They are very difficult to replace. It's easy to find rule-breakers who won't comply just to benefit themselves or piss someone else off. It's also relatively easy to find the rule-followers (you can tell them by their grey hairs and clenched jaws).


But it's these people who bend the rules just a little, work in ways that don't seem the most efficient, do things that make you wonder why. But they do it all with a strong purpose driving them forward. They are only there to get the real work done and do away with the other nonsense.


Perhaps you can slowly coach them to accept some of the "necessary evils" of the rule and process-driven organisation. However, before you drive them out or have to let them go, consider, what are you giving up? Is it worth living with a little non-compliance to have more of these edge cases solved?


We need the rule-benders. They are here to solve some of the most complex problems we have.