Photo credit: Jirsak

Why you should empower employees to violate policy when in the company’s best interest

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on August 9, 2021.

Hire people with good critical judgment – they may need to determine when to violate company policy when it’s in the company’s best interest.

There are many good reasons for company policies and for holding employees accountable for following them. Certainly, employees must always comply with legal, regulatory and safety requirements. But I am referring to situations that fall outside those areas. When should an employee be celebrated rather than terminated for violating a company policy?

Early in my career when I was a young division business manager, a customer reported that one of our products was found to have a trace amount of contaminants. We needed to recall the product that was already shipped to several distributors, who in turn sent the product to many end-users.

The cost of a recall increased significantly with each day. In addition, we faced a growing reputational and liability risk the longer the product remained in the marketplace. My boss and the CEO were traveling in Europe and, in an era before cell phones and email, were unreachable. I didn’t have the authority to order the recall, but waiting until they could be reached increased the cost and risk to the company. So I ordered the recall even though it went against company policy.

Photo credit: Jirsak

When my boss and the CEO returned, they thanked me for the decision I had made. The lesson I learned as a young leader is to always hire people with good critical judgment, because someday they may need to violate company policy or their authority to save the company money, reduce liability exposure or protect its reputation. I also learned that as a leader, your reaction to an employee breaking company policy is situational. On occasion, disregarding policy is exactly what you want to happen, and the employee should be recognized for doing so.

Having good critical judgment means having the ability to weigh the consequences of an action, determine whether the benefits outweigh the possible negatives and be able to justify the action as the right decision. Having good critical judgment as a leader means being able to determine in a particular situation whether your employee was justified in violating the policy.

These are also great opportunities to test whether a company policy is still relevant. Do you ever wonder about the policies at your company, and whether some are still valid, especially those that have been on the books for years and never reassessed? If a policy is no longer relevant, it should be taken off the books.

Employees who on occasion violate company policy for the right reasons are your change agents and future leaders. Celebrate them.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. He can be reached at

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