This paper is an attempt to understand how rules operate in organizations. I focus on the links between organizational routines and rules that are incomplete in their application. I analyse the role of routines in managing the incompleteness of rules. I present a case study where management introduced a productivity bonus in the middle of 1992. This allows for the study of the extent to which the new rule modifies the prevailing routines of work organization. Based on team observations, interviews and statistics that I carried out over a period of nine years (1992–2000), I show that in an initial period, the productivity bonus has partially biased the task selection process. In a second period—‘the normal period’—our observations indicate that following the rules consists in translating the abstract rules into concrete reference points, and adding in what the rules have not specified. The translation process conducts to a routine since the interpretation is stabilized. Routines provide a pragmatic, local and temporary solution to the incompleteness of rules. Since routines emerge only in the course of action, they come with no guarantee of success. That constitutes their dynamic.
Industrial and Corporate Change – Oxford University Press
Published: Oct 5, 2005
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