The void at the heart of rules: routines in the context of rule-following.
This paper is an attempt to understand how rules operate in organisations. I focus on the links between organisational routines and rules that are defined as incomplete since they come to their application. I analyse the role of routines in managing the incompleteness of rules. I present a case study where management introduced a productivity bonus in the middle of 1992. This allows to study in what extent the new rule modifies the prevailing routines of work organisation. Based on team observations, interviews, and statistics that I carried out over a period of nine years (1992-2000), I show that in an initial period, the productivity bonus has partially biased the tasks selection process. In a second period - "the normal period" - our observations indicate that following the rules consists in translating the abstract rules into concrete reference points, and adding in what the rules have not specified. The translation process conducts to a routine since the interpretation is stabilised. Routines provide a pragmatic, local, and temporary solution to the incompleteness of rules. Since routines emerge only in the course of action, they come with no guarantee of success. That constitutes their dynamic.
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