Change is hard. Inside corporate structures, with deeply ingrained practices, it’s often safer to simply follow the rules.

But in times when business models are rapidly being re-invented and the average lifespan of a the S&P 500 continues to shorten, failure to effectively change people and processes could lead to extinction.

But, if you’re a change maker brought in to chart a new course within a corporate environment, then it’s a good idea to explain why you’re doing it first.

That’s the advice from Suzanne Kounkel, Chief Marketing Officer of US Deloitte Consulting.

During a panel discussion at NetSuite’s SuiteWorld event in Las Vegas last week, the marketing boss said she made a major career mistake when she was stepping into a new role inside Deloitte where she wanted to do things differently.

“I knew as I went in there that there were things I wanted to do differently, because that’s why I thought I’d gotten the job,” Kounkel said.

“I ended up breaking some long standing rules — which would have been fine — but what I didn’t do was be explicit about the fact that I knew the rules were there and that I was going to break them and the reason why I was going to break them was because of xyz,” she said.

“People assumed when I broke those rules I either didn’t understand the rules or I didn’t respect the rules. So it ended up meaning I had to backtrack a little bit, play more of a traditional role before then I had the buy-in to start breaking some things and doing some different things very explicitly.”

Start-ups, which enjoy the freedom of only playing by the rules they set for themselves, can also struggle with this cultural dynamic if they have corporate clients or customers. They too can learn lessons about how to respectfully break the rules.

Vanessa Ogle, CEO, Enseo

Also speaking on the panel was Vanessa Ogle, CEO & chairman of Enseo, a Texas-based company she founded almost 20 years ago. Enseo provides in-room entertainment and media solutions for hotels and digital signage.

“I’m the chairman and CEO of our organisation so I kind of get to do what I want, all the time,” Ogle said.

“But we have some large hotel customers that have lots of employees, lots of structure and lots of rules.”

Ogle said she had a re-defining moment when her largest customer, fed up with her perceived rule breaking, said she didn’t respect the company’s rules. From her perspective inside a growing start-up, Ogle believed she was acting in her client’s best interest to get a better outcome.

“In our world we just innovate and failing fast is a wonderful thing that we celebrate all the time,” she said.

“You have to understand that there are rules and if you are going to break them, explicitly say ‘I am going to innovate and disrupt right now in this moment by doing this because I think that is the better outcome’.”

And some circumstances call for the rules to be completely re-written.

When Ogle fell pregnant while running the business (“That’s a real opportunity killer sometimes,” she joked) the company came up with new rules.

“I went to my team and I went to my board and I said I’d love to keep doing what I’m doing but to do that we are going to have to change the rules.”

The company built a nursery and her daughter came to work everyday, Ogle said, followed by a second daughter who also came to work and meetings with her mother every day.

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