When Is It Ok to Bend the Rules at Work

At Zingerman`s in Michigan, where customers often insist on using expired coupons, employees are trained to happily share value. Recently, says founder Weinzweig, a customer who benefited from this indulgence bought two additional bottles of balsamic vinegar. “I`m not saying you should break all the rules every time,” he says. “It`s chaos. Part of leadership is knowing when it`s okay to break it. The digital age has brought new examples of questionable customer behaviour. Newspapers like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal often turn a blind eye when readers share their subscription credentials with friends and family. The reason? These non-paying readers see ads – and could one day become paid readers themselves. That`s right, right? We see how people break the rules at work all the time and suffer no consequences, but are rewarded for their courageous nature. And some rules need to be broken to make room for more exciting possibilities.

Finally, no, it is never acceptable to circumvent the rules on employee compensation – namely, in the case of my company, the New York State law that distinguishes between white-collar workers and paid hourly workers. Note: This scenario applies to smaller, less important things, such as changing your meeting routine or skipping a deadline to work on something more important. I guess you don`t have the power to make big changes to your department`s or company`s strategy without asking permission or getting all your information properly first (but more on that later). Of course, Netflix has allowed users to share accounts for years, knowing they would lose hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. Restaurants playfully compensate meals for dissatisfied customers, even if their complaints are unfounded. Target also engages in harmless rule violations and abides by the one-year warranty on its Cat & Jack children`s clothing brand, even if the returned shirt or shorts clearly made a full business trip to art class or the jungle gym. On the other hand, if your boss explicitly gives you permission to work on a project the way you want, it`s not just your green light to get creative, but also an indication that they want you to take over your work – if not. This means you have to break the rules if you see more potential for growth, both for you and for the business. Let`s face it: many rules are outdated, poorly designed or poorly enforced. They are designed to minimize risks and thus stifle creativity. The most successful business people – those with a real vision – see them as opportunities for change. Internally, I encourage employees to shout stupid rules and break them when it improves the company as a whole.

We even resist creating rules if we can avoid them (much to the chagrin of our newly hired SOX auditors). Instead, we encourage people to ask good questions, think about possible outcomes, and then come up with answers they can find “always with the best interests and core values of the company” as guiding principles. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, Zingerman`s delicatessen has long integrated this vision into its business model. Co-founder Ari Weinzweig actively encourages his more than 700 employees to break company rules in the name of customer service. The only caveat: never compromise the health or safety of customers or the community. If you can argue to your supervisor that certain rules need to be broken – this will increase productivity, it will help you better achieve your goals, it will facilitate collaboration with other teams – you could get them to change paths and, better yet, get them to help you. And by getting their permission first, you`ll save face if it doesn`t work and avoid the consequences of walking behind their backs. “Some rules exist for a legal reason. I would never break them.

Most other rules exist for a reason, so I wouldn`t choose to break or bend one for no good reason – and I`d ask my manager for permission first. However, I want to be able to explain why this rule needs to be changed. Deborah Lynn Blumberg is a Houston-based freelance writer specializing in business, finance, health and wellness, whose work has been published in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch, The Christian Science Monitor and Newsday. Previously, she was a reporter for the Dow Jones/The Wall Street Journal. (deborahlynnblumberg.com; @dlblumberg). In my company, we always enjoy being agile and responsive – but some areas are best managed with a certain structure. In particular, our employees` quarterly performance reviews and weekly one-on-one meetings include question and answer areas designed to ensure everyone is making meaningful progress. Our “rules” – these templates – exist for the benefit of every employee, so this is an area from which we do not stray from.