When is it okay to bend the rules?

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A policy is defined as a principle or protocol to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes. A policy is a statement of intent, and is implemented as a procedure or protocol.

One of my favorite interview questions used to be “In your opinion when is it okay to bend the rules?” It really wasn’t fair because it was a trick question. If they answered with anything besides they would never bend the rules, I would scrap their application because to me that was the only right answer. Policy was not to be broken…..period.

As I’ve gotten older, more experience, and evaluated myself by truly trying to answer this question honestly I’ve changed my opinion. There is a reason policy should be broken. There’s one and only one reason: When it separates you from common sense!

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14 thoughts on “When is it okay to bend the rules?

  1. Rajiv says:

    Brilliant post….policies are guidelines, and should be updated from time to time.
    Most people, however, only see the narrow confines of a policy. It’s like a job description

  2. Karaboo says:

    I agree and disagree equally. Policies in the workplace are in place for a reason and should be followed; however there should also be a mechanism in place to review and modify policies as needed as well. What made common sense 3-5 years ago may not make common sense today with the changes in technology.

  3. I’m a big believer in knowing the rules, so that you know how to break them! Policies are in place to protect us and the company, and that has to be a priority; however, you are right, sometimes the policy does get in the way and that is a good time to reevaluate where you stand.
    Great post!

  4. Ed Hansen says:

    The Philosopher Kant would argue that the categorical imperative suggests we should never break a rule unless we expect that the action resulting establish a new universal law. In the simplest of terms, this would suggest that we can not make it situationally okay for employees to clock in late unless we intend to make clocking in late the new rule. As a Marine Corps Officer I was actually taught (as Kate said) that we have rules and follow them so we know and understand the situations in which to break them, The ultimate utilitarian view in a nutshell. For most of my professional life I have followed ‘Kate’s Law” and I have been burned for it many times. From each unfortunate circumstance I have grown. Today, I am less a proponent of “rule-breaking” or of ignoring others who do so. From experience, I will share two maxims in the form of expressions. One “Any exception begins a walk down a slippery slope.” Two, “No good deed goes unpunished.” These amount to my sharing my personal view that as a leader/manager you should make any deviation from the “rules” by yourself and the allowance for others breaking the “rules” a very rare and well-considered event. There will be consequences. As was suggested in another comment, however, having rules and insisting that they be followed requires that those rules be regularly evaluated for appropriateness. Regards, Dr. Ed

  5. Ed Hansen says:

    I do not agree with the perspective that “policies are put in place to help us not enslave us”. Policies do not belong to the employee. They are instruments of the company intended to establish and maintain order and consistency in process (which is a basic definition of Quality). A leader/manager in any organization must be careful not to undermine the fundamental integrity of any policies approved or sanctioned by the Board of Directors. When we accept employment we usually sign a statement that we have read, understand and agree to abide by the company’s policies, procedures and protocols. We effectively contract to comply with them.If we find later that we can not, in good conscience, comply then we have two legitimate options. One, we can participate in the established process for changing policy. Two, we can, of our own volition, leave the company. In the course of my career, I have done both at different times. Regards, Dr. Ed

    • There was a story a couple years ago where a lifeguard was fired after he left his area of patrol to save a drowning child. He was a hero and saved the child’s life but was fired because he broke the policy of staying within his area.

      If you were the employer would you have reacted the same way?

      If you were the lifeguard would you have let the child drown?

  6. This pretty much shows what a task-centred-leader will do when compared to a people-centred-leader. The one who focuses on the task or policies puts such ahead of the people.

  7. Bill says:

    I love the point that many rules are designed by man to give guidance to a set of circumstances that required guidance. However, when common sense is applied and the rule no longer makes sense, then the rule is wrong and needs altering. The problem we have today is that we don’t exercise common sense or are put in a situation where we are not allowed to change the rules even if common sense tells you that under this set of circumstances the rules don’t work. None is more prevalent then in the sciences that drive the evolutionary theories. If common sense was to be applied to the subject, then the scientific studies would be continously altered based on the total findings and the results would point a different direction. Many times rules are designed by an individual based on that persons desired outcome. So yes common sense is such a great God give gift that we need to exercise more.

  8. Generating rice would seem quite simple and there’s no rocket science involved.

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