In Defense of Violating Policies

“I have seen a lot of things, and have seen a lot of guys die…but I have never seen a Marine cry.” (witness to incident below)

I don’t know any Marines personally, but I suspect that making one cry is a very difficult feat. A story surfaced recently regarding a Marine trying to fly home on Delta Airlines. This young man lost two legs in Afghanistan last year and was trying to fly home for Christmas. The Customer Service people (and I use the term ‘service’ very loosely here) decided this Marine should be boarded last at the back of the plane. It’s a pain for able-bodied people to navigate through a crowded plane, let alone a double-amputee in a wheelchair. So they dragged him through the aisle, bumping into seats along the way despite offers of assistance. A couple First-class passengers even offered to trade seats with him but the Delta employees refused and continued the humiliating journey down the aisle in front of a crowded plane.

Now in defense of Delta Airlines, they acknowledged they mishandled this situation, and issued a statement saying “We failed in this situation”. That takes a lot of guts for an organization to publicly say they made a mistake, and I respect their willingness to do so. (other organizations who mess up should take note of Delta’s response)

Incidents like this happen every day in large organizations (albeit most don’t make the front page of newspapers). An employee gets presented with an opportunity to use their brain, their internal compassionate tendencies, and their discretion…and they hide behind the policy instead. How many times have you heard a variation of, “Thank you sir, but our policy states that…”? Does it ever make you a more engaged customer? In most cases, it enrages you. But I think the issue is not the employee him/herself, but rather the leaders who enforce those policies, and who punish violators irrationally. Policies can’t encompass every conceivable situation, even though they sometimes try to.

Our orientation and training for employees should include a review of policies, but also a review of when to violate said policies. If the employees you hire can’t handle that discretion, then you shouldn’t have hired them. It’s amazing what can happen when you give employees liberty, discretion and opportunities to provide the service you want them to. Policies are needed, but not at the expense of what your organization is there for in the first place.

The quote at the beginning if this article is haunting. So many things could have gone different in this incident had this organization empowered their employees to violate policies when it makes sense to do so, and who backed up their employees when they did. It may very well avoid embarrassing situations like this one.


About Tim Vanderpyl
I am a student of leadership and human resources, and I'm blogging to share some of my thoughts and ideas with readers. I'm a CHRP (Certified Human Resource Professional) at a large healthcare organization, a graduate of Regent University's Doctor of Strategic Leadership program, and lover of the life that God has gifted me with.

2 Responses to In Defense of Violating Policies

  1. 5. Your employer can’t stop you from discussing your salary with your co-workers. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) says that employers can’t prevent employees from discussing wages among themselves. Many employers have policies against this anyway, but these policies violate the law.

  2. Compensation is always a touchy issue, and I often wonder how much productivity is lost by employees discussing rumours about it. I’m starting to lean towards just publishing everyone’s salary internally, for all to see. It would stop misinformation, and lessen the rumours going around about secret raises.

    thanks for the comment

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