Project Management

When Protocols, Policies & Rules Become Problematic

Michael R. Wood is a Business Process Improvement & IT Strategist Independent Consultant. He is creator of the business process-improvement methodology called HELIX and founder of The Natural Intelligence Group, a strategy, process improvement and technology consulting company. He is also a CPA, has served as an Adjunct Professor in Pepperdine's Management MBA program, an Associate Professor at California Lutheran University, and on the boards of numerous professional organizations. Mr. Wood is a sought after presenter of HELIX workshops and seminars in both the U.S. and Europe.

Every organization has ways of doing things that have been reduced to a series of published protocols, policies and rules. Most of the time, there are reasonable and logical reasons for these “ways of doing.”

Sometimes though, people choose to break the rules because—in their judgment—the circumstances and situation justified the departure. Even when in hindsight the facts support breaking the rules, management often admonishes and punishes workers for their action on the basis that “the rules are the rules.”

When this happens, who or what is at fault? Is it the rule? Is it the offending person(s)? Is it management? Is it all of the above?

This is an interesting dilemma to ponder and explore. What are justified reasons for breaking with protocol? When does doing “the right thing” take precedent over following “the rules” when a conflict arises? What happens when the need for immediate action does not afford the luxury of asking permission? When is it appropriate to leave your “lane” and take alternative actions, despite the personal repercussions and risk?

You might think that in a business setting, circumstances don’t arise that put people in rule-breaking situations, and for the most part you would be right. And yet sometimes, for the benefit of the organization, taking rule-breaking …

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