Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work

Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work

The FINANCIAL -- While working as the general manager of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Istanbul for several years, Massimiliano Zanardi, known as Max, played a critical role in the hotel's opening and devoted a lot of effort to finding ways to improve the experience of customers. His efforts paid off: The hotel received the prestigious Business Destinations Travel Awards in 2015, was named Turkey's Best Luxury Hotel and was praised by Business Destinations magazine for its unique way of innovating, its unparalleled facilities and the passion and commitment the hotel's employees have for their jobs.

When asked where their passion comes from, the employees often say it's due to the way that Zanardi encouraged them to always ask questions. Despite the hotel's success, Zanardi regularly challenged employees to think differently about luxury by asking "why?" and "what if?" questions. Take the employees' yearly ritual of planting flowers on the terrace right outside the hotel's restaurant. Employees get together at around the same time each year to fill the pots and choose what to plant. To assure that the usual way of doing things was questioned, Zanardi asked staff members, "Why do we always plant flowers? What else could we plant?" These questions raised the employees' curiosity and triggered some creative answers. Though the pots were generally used for flowers, they ended up becoming home to herbs and heirloom tomatoes that then were used in the hotel's acclaimed restaurant, Atelier Real Food. All of this from asking a few simple questions, rather than taking the usual way of doing things for granted, according to HBS.

Zanardi's actions seem contrary to the popular adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." By deviating from customs, even successful ones, his behavior offers an example of rebellion that can bring about positive change in organizations.

We generally think of rule-breaking in business as trouble. We picture people who rebel just for the sake of creating chaos or annoying others, and workplaces that risk spinning out of control. But, we have this wrong: Breaking rules, when done with the right intent, can generate rather surprising results. We, as well as our organizations, stand to benefit from more rebelliousness, not less.