Dichotomy of Rules vs Culture

Akash Deep
3 min readFeb 11, 2020

Setting up a new sales team was a unique task for me for multiple reasons. Being in a startup environment meant that I could not depend on HR to provide me list of candidates as per the criteria. With the help of a consultant and searching myself on various portals I talked to more than 200 candidates for hiring a team of 15 (A big lesson in the art of delegation). Actual problem arose after the hiring was complete and everyone was in Head-office for 2 week induction and product training.

Our Company CEO told me I had two weeks of time to sell the product to them, If I am successful in selling the product, they would have no problem in selling it for full year. They should be sold first

First problem was that all of them had more experience in Sales than me. How do you make them listen to you. Secondly, they had come from various backgrounds and all of them had to be molded to the way our company worked. Thirdly, even though they would be part of sales team, they would not have any initial set of clients assigned to them because it was a cross sales team (they were introducing the new product in the market). Already someone from main sales team would be handling their territory and they were supposed to influence the customers in buying the new product in addition to the other products regular sales team was pitching.

First and third problems were the ones where I could get help from my seniors and solve. May be I will discuss them separately some other time. It was the third problem which I found most intriguing.

“How to set the tone of work culture in a new team?”

I think this problem can be answered using two methods i.e. Rules and Culture. By Rules, I mean that, you provide set of do’s and dont’s to your team and set the parameters for measuring their performance. Culture is more broad and first thing is that you can’t train people for setting up a culture. People imitate their colleagues and assume that acquired behavior as an accepted norm in the organization. It can be use of cuss words, shouting at subordinates, Treating everyone with respect, addressing people by their first name or like sir/madam etc. No company trains its employees to use cuss words in crisis situation but people do that and that is an acquired behavior.

Success of the rules depends on how ingrained those rules become in daily narrative of the group. This process of adaptation to new rules becomes easier if the group members are part of the process while creating those rules. This brings me to the dichotomy I want to discuss in this post. i.e. Rules vs Culture.

While living in a group, a set of people share common values and over a period of time, they start interacting in a particular way which is specific to that group. These interactions form the part of culture and these interaction only largely dictate the behavior of a member.

Setting up rules and regulations is another way to define the group interactions and behavior of an individual.

While setting up new teams in business, what is the best way to align the teams in one direction ?

This question becomes more important in the current world order where everything is moving fast and people have decreasing tendency to settle. It means that there will not be enough time available for exposure to your company’s culture. Unless you are part of a bigger community where such norms are already defined. That is another open question which needs to be answered.

Rules usually flow from top to bottom but culture flows from bottom to top. If you want to check if rules are successful then you need to check if person in highest authority is following it or not. If you want to know whether the established culture is working or not, you should check it by the behavior of the person at lowest level.

Rules are easy to set but hard to implement but culture is hard to set but once set, people follow it as it becomes part of their identity.

If you are in a specific field for long term, you should definitely go for influencing behavior which will have a long term impact. However, for handling short term assignments, defining the rules would be far more effective and economical.