Should you compromise company policies?

Bargains allow innovation and idea generation, and can foster teamwork and deeper communication

As business owners and management executives, this question frequently confronts us. Almost 10 years ago, when we opened our doors, we had no policies. It was “workday by winging it” and often it felt as if we were re-inventing the wheel, which was not only inefficient but also distracting.

Our roller coaster experience of rapid growth required implementation of both basic business policies, as well as guidelines specific to our line of business. Mostly, our policies and operational procedures were welcomed in order to keep everyone organized and speaking the same language with the same expectations. Occasionally there were outliers who challenged our way of business — sometimes operational policies that affect the bottom line, and sometimes behavior policies that affect culture and morale.

So what do you do when a widely accepted policy that affects both culture and bottom line is challenged by a highly valued, highly productive and hard-to-replace employee? Certainly, we cannot be alone in that question.

Typically, if a policy is challenged, we stick to it and the employee either gets on board or departs. But if the employee is an integral member of the organization and highly valued, there is more at stake for the common good (and in the definition of business, this means survive and thrive). In that case, compromise enters the picture.

Effective compromise is an essential tool in the workplace toolbox. Compromise allows innovation and idea generation, and also fosters teamwork and deeper communication, which helps employees be heard.

On the flipside, ineffective compromise has negative effects. If leaders concede standards (say, job shift an underperforming employee rather than terminate), this costs time, money and morale.

The grey area is knowing when to be flexible and allow for compromise, and when to dig in and stick to policy or standards. As a leader, one cannot approach every decision as I win/you lose.

I am sure you know the type who is so determined to be right they become unapproachable and in that case, lose opportunities. Or there is the type who poorly compromises and puts the company at risk. This is when we rely on our mission, vision and values. No decision is worth compromising integrity and trust.

We have a staffing structure issue presenting itself now and the ultimate decision is unclear. There are strong arguments to possible resolutions. Our approach is to start with the ideal outcome, which is, “Keep the key employee.” 

With the desired outcome identified, we can work backward with a business case that sticks to the company’s mission, vision and core values — all of which lead to growth and the greater good of the company. Because multiple people will be effected by this decision, it’s a challenge to get everyone on board without negative feedback that the key employee has received special treatment or allowance since we may compromise an important policy in order to keep him.

By presenting just the numbers, without emotion, we can develop team support so they can understand the logic and business case of the decision. For example, if we allow for policy compromise in this instance, we can reach our volume and revenue goals. If the employee leaves, we risk months of zero volumes (no patients) and no income before the position is replaced. This could translate into lost jobs or even closing that location.

To achieve compromise and positively affect the common good, the whole team must recognize its value. Compromise does not necessarily mean “common ground,” where all parties agree. It does mean each side gains by sacrificing something valuable to the other. The sacrifices that create an improved situation are exactly what make running a business so challenging but also deeply satisfying — the rising tide lifts all boats. 

Categories: Management & Leadership