Rule violations and organizational search: A review and extension

Vinit M. Desai
International Journal of Management Reviews, Jun. 2010, Vol. 12 Issue 2, pp. 184-200

Whether they are formally prescribed or informally agreed upon, rules delineate the types of behavior deemed acceptable or appropriate within organizations. Studies often find that negative outcomes such as decreased group cohesion and higher turnover result when rules are broken. However, research rarely examines the potential positive effects of rule violations. Rules describe expectations about behavior within routines, or patterns of activity in organizations. When rules are violated by individuals, it could be an indication that the associated patterns of activity are no longer appropriate and that changes to the routines are needed. Organizations may learn from these violations if the violations trigger a search for new ways to organize activities, but this connection between violations and the search for new routines is affected by several factors. Drawing from a review and discussion of rules, routines, and research on organizational search and learning, this paper develops propositions regarding how rule violations motivate the search for new routines. This perspective integrates the literatures on rule-breaking and organizational search, and also suggests that managers who attend to patterns of rule-breaking within their organizations may detect drift from their environments and take corrective action earlier than suggested by other organizational learning research.