Asking for Forgiveness

"It is often better to ask for forgiveness than permission."

These words are spoken thousands of times every day in the corporate world, and the underlying truth embedded in this statement is evident to most corporate veterans -- that rules often hamstring employees to the point that the need to go forward with what they know is right outweighs the need to follow procedure.  It is the notion that "all will be forgiven," however, that needs to be challenged. 

Following this simple rule of thumb comes with additional risks and inherent consequences that are often not recognized by its practitioner.  First and foremost among these is completely shouldering responsibility should your project or plan fail.

Early in my career, I fell victim to this particular consequence, by plowing ahead on a project without permission.  At the time, I was the primary sales contact with an important customer, and did double-duty by also acting as their engineering/development resource.  I'd been particularly irked by the fact that the customer incorporated one of our competitor's products in one of their models, and when the customer's lead engineer commented that he wasn't completely happy with that product's performance, I quickly volunteered to develop improvements for them free of charge. 

Of course, I didn't really have the authority to make that commitment.  But since I was technically volunteering my own time, I just did it anyway. 

Once back home, I poured hours into a series of product modifications that eventually did manage to provide marginal improvement to the competitor's product.  But in the process, I wasted dozens, perhaps hundreds, of hours.  And in the end, my customer didn't even incorporate the improvements in the product because of the additional costs. 

Of course, our commercial manager found out about the whole thing, and complained.  He would have preferred for me to spend my time working on a new design for a new potential customer.  My boss gave me a thorough dressing down for superseding my authority, and wasting the company's resources (mainly my own time).  Although I "asked for forgiveness" my behavior was not forgotten when my next review came up.

Another way you might fall afoul of this simplistic rubric is by technically violating a rule, and thus exposing yourself to political power plays by you corporate enemies.

While I managed to evade paying the ultimate price, I definitely had a close encounter with this tye much later in my career.  In that situation, I received a call late in the evening to discuss a "deal" one of my subordinates had been charged with arranging.  Without going into gory details, the subordinate had been negotiating with a very difficult distributor over changes to his agreement that would be unfavorable in the extreme.  Now, after days of tense discussions, he had a deal -- all I needed to do was approve it.

The problem was that the price tag for the agreement was well beyond of my level of authority.  Technically, I would need to call my boss at home, explain the situation to him, and secure his approval.  But I was pretty sure he wouldn't provide it -- at least not without endless reviews and demands to again renegotiate, which would likely have put us back at ground zero.  So I instead passed along my approval to my subordinate, figuring I could tidy things up after the fact. 

Big mistake.  I'd violated the company's rules defining delegation of authority, and I was subject to discipline -- up to and including my termination.  At that point, all it would have taken was for a powerful political enemy to campaign for my ouster, and it would have been a done deal.  I would have been summarily fired.

So just beware of " asking for forgiveness rather than permission."  When you take this step, you're assuming a much higher than normal risk, and exposing yourself to an even bigger than usual penalty for failure. 18.3

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If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.  

Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013) -- note, the Kindle version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for $2.99, as are various eVersions of LEVERAGE.

When faced with apparent wrong-doing by your employer, and interested government agents, what would YOU do?

When faced with apparent wrong-doing by your employer, and interested government agents, what would YOU do?

To the right is the cover for DELIVERABLES.  This novel features a senior manager approached by government officials to spy on his employer, complete with a story about how a "deal" they are negotiating might put critical technical secrets into the hands of enemies of the United States.  Of course, everything is not exactly as it seems....

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experiences as a senior manager in public corporations.