Inotivity Blog

The Rules Audit. One step to a more innovative company.


Pogo had the business wisdom decades ago.

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Tom Rieger, a Senior Practice Expert for Gallup, once wrote that “The greatest threat to an organization’s success is not always the competition. Often, it is what a company does to itself. “


Pogo daily strip from Earth Day, 1971.

Image via Wikipedia


Rieger, who has spend years researching barriers within companies says that obstacles begin with a narrowing of focus, which leads to the first level of bureaucracy, parochialism.

“Parochialism exists when managers and departments begin to view the world through the filter of their own little silo, and build walls make of rules and policies to protect their turf.”

As businesses grow and become more complex, the second level of bureaucracy is reached: territorialism. While parochialism is about protecting a department from outsiders, territorialism is about controlling those inside the silo.

“The third and final level of bureaucracy is empire building, which is a response to perceived threats to a department’s ability to be self-sufficient. These barriers cost organizations a fortune in inefficiency, turnover, waste, and demoralization.”

Innovation is about creating value.

One of smartest ways to create value is to identify those barriers that are inhibiting ideas from flowing within and beyond silos.

Rieger suggests a simple, but effective way to begin: A Rules Audit.

What rules in your organization are obstacles in disguise? “Some rules have nothing to do with customer engagement, a better workplace, limited risk or liability or avoiding catastrophes—they exist to make life easier for a small part of the organization without any regard for other more important factors.

Begin by identifying the rules that are hinder rather than help. For example, one company had a rule that denied rental car expenses if the receipt showed that the renter used the car for fewer than 50 miles. So employees would just drive around the airport until they hit the 50 mile mark.

Here are six steps recommended by Rieger.

1. Identify the need that the rule is supposed to fulfill, and evaluate the validity of that need.

2. Assess ownership of the rule.

3. Determine how effective the rule is in meeting its intended need.

4. Find unintended consequences of the rule.

5. Establish the type of rule it is and the type it should be.

6. Adjust and communicate.

At Inotivity, this process is often the first step to also identifying conventions that are barriers to creating and evaluating new ideas.

Thanks Pogo. (Walt Kelly)

Click below for Tom Rieger’s Change This Manifesto on how to do a rules audit.




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About the Author

Martin Baker, Inotivity’s President and Chief Idea Catalyst, was among the first to be trained as a certified trainer, facilitator and coach with the world’s leading innovation firm, Chicago-based Solution People. He has been an award-winning creative director and consultant with such leading agencies as Saatchi & Saatchi in California and The Martin Agency in Virginia. He was also an Executive Associate Director/Creative Director at Texas A&M University.


  1. Base10  November 2, 2011

    This is a great post, Marty, and applicable to one’s life as well as an organization’s. What unrecognized rules am I living by that inadvertently hinder and/or sabotage me? Food for thought.

    Glad I met you at ATL!


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