Principles of breaking rules (Part 5): Make the impact last

CTO KONE. IoT pioneer, investor, board member, author.

I remember how a few years ago we set out to build a completely new company. Our goal was to achieve sales of over $1 billion in seven years. To achieve this goal, we first had to transform the team to both operate effectively as a startup and intelligently leverage the broader company to access and scale.

Within weeks we confidently stride through the transformation journey, executing each phase quickly, learning and adapting. Our team achieved ambitious goals and key results (OKRs), expertly broke rules, and determinedly filled in the missing pieces of the North Star. And yet we had unanswered questions.

“How do we ensure that the transformation is not superficial – that people and the organization are not changing temporarily or superficially?” “Have we created a team that can constantly reinvent itself and maintain a high level of performance over the long term?” Will the transformation continue to have a positive impact long after some of us have left?”

Based on the nine principles of rule-breaking, we have identified three factors to look out for:

1. Most team members owned the change. They saw value in the new model for their teams and for themselves. They adopted an ever-changing mindset and gained experience in applying the toolset and metrics.

2. Early successes and best practices served as proof points. They have helped build trust and accelerated wider adoption.

3. Individuals and teams have successfully practiced the Disagree and Commit principle. We found that all three ingredients were firmly in place. It gave us confidence that (barring external factors) the team would be able to undertake the thorough and profound transformation needed to safely lead the business to breakthrough and beyond.

1. Humans carry the magic on.

Looking back, the long-term effects of my trips breaking the rules have been varied. Some brought together teams of experts who made tremendous progress over the years. Unfortunately, others eventually became victims of changing priorities and organizational structures.

However, in every case, the impact of effective rule-breaking went beyond a single transformation, team, or organization. In the end, the most important result was the change in the people involved. As people thoroughly reinvented themselves, they dared to build new skills, redesign businesses, and start new ones. When they formed tight-knit teams of experts and change agents, they created magic.

As the changes began to bear fruit, some team members began preparing for another challenge – another adrenaline rush of making the impossible possible. As they moved to other teams and companies, they took with them their change agent mindset, rule-breaking expertise and practical transformation insights.

They became constant rule breakers and role models, earning the right to inspire and lead and help others learn to dream and effectively achieve those dreams. Many stayed in touch, continued to share ideas, and continued to develop the toolset.

2. Mix art and science with one toolset.

I have been practicing, learning, correcting, developing and refining the principles of rule-breaking for many years. And while I’ve found the Nine Principles to work for me repeatedly, I also know that with each new mission, I need to adjust the approach, scope, and pace. Because every team is different, every role is different and every transformation is different.

For me, breaking the rules continues to be a mix of art and science. With so much at stake, I am always careful, selective and systematic when breaking the rules, striving to break the right rules for the right reasons, at the right time, in the right order and with the right teams.

And that’s why we so often debate which rules to adopt and which to break now or later. We identify the benefits and potential downsides of violating each rule and ways to quickly mitigate mistakes. And then we act – we break a rule decisively and comprehensively.

So what makes an effective rule breaker? You must be ambidextrous and able to deal with apparent contradictions: on the one hand, you must actively listen, practice empathy, build win-win relationships, and mentor your teams. On the other hand, with well-defined OKRs and deliverables, relentlessly drive adoption across your teams while influencing and collaborating with others.

Be open, vulnerable, flexible and inclusive – but also action-oriented, decisive and willing to swim against the current and avoid groupthink. Be inspirational yet challenging. Experiment, but keep your commitments. Stay committed to North Star over the long term and ruthlessly prioritize each phase and execute on the short term.

Does it seem daunting and overwhelming to master these opposing qualities? That shouldn’t be the case. Many of us have found success with such a two-handed approach. However, it helps to have basic principles and tools that you can continually draw on. Whether you adopt or evolve the principles I use, or develop your own, it helps to have a framework in place that gives you structure, reduces risk, saves time, and increases the chances of making a lasting impact.

As I complete my journey to breaking the rules at KONE, one thing is very clear. As every company must become a high-tech company at its core, each of us must become an effective change agent who has mastered the art and science of breaking the rules. It’s a lifetime of journeys full of rewards and setbacks, always full of realizations and always outside of your comfort zone.

What makes it rewarding for me is to see many of our team members grow and thrive beyond their wildest dreams, and to see teams and organizations thoroughly and consistently reinventing themselves against all odds. When you see results like this, you know all the hard work has paid off.

Because ultimately, our contribution is not only measured by the rules we break, but also by the lasting impact our actions have on organizations, teams and, yes, individuals.

Have fun breaking the rules.

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