Written vs. the Unwritten

What truly motivates employee behaviour?

Business people joining hands
ESB Professional/Shutterstock

Steve Simpson, an executive coach from Down Under, wants you to know what truly drives employee’s behaviour. It’s not the mission statement, and it is definitely not the HR policy or procedure manual. It is what Steve Simpson calls “UGRs,” or Unwritten Ground Rules.

Click here to read an article on UGRs.

A key feature about UGRs, according to Steve Simpson, is the way they drive the employee’s behaviour but despite being never written down, nor are they ever talked about.

UGRs develop out of people being together in groups in the workplace; they really are just the norms the groups observe and follow. Many organizations attempt to create a culture with words which is known as a mission statement, but it is actions that create workplace norms and culture. Organizations continually fail to understand their own culture, therefore, fail to manageme their workplace culture, according to Steve Simpson.

Click here to see Steve Simpson’s interview on UGR’s.

So how can organizations begin to pull back the veil on UGRs, and shine a 200 watt bulb on the behaviours? Well, one effective way is to ask questions. Many UGRs can be uncovered when you hear the words “around here” which is usually followed by something the organization does or doesn’t do.

Most organizations may spend too much time trying to audit their organizations with sophisticated and overly complex culture surveys. However, if you follow Steve Simpson UGRs concept, the best way to figure out your true corporate culture is to ask employees leading questions and ask them to finish the sentence that explains their day-to-day behaviour.


  1. From your past experience, identify three UGRs from a workplace, a class you took or a team you were on.
  2. How did the UGRs affect your performance? How did the UGRs affect the culture?
  3. How would you use your knowledge of HR to address the above UGRs?
  4. After watching the short video clip, think about questions you could ask in the workplace that would uncover the true norms of the organizations.

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