Have you ever thought of a better way of doing things at work but hesitated to act because it wasn't standard practice? Or perhaps you have concocted a "work-around" for efficiency and ease but kept it under the radar to avoid getting into trouble?

Have you allowed people, policies or other prohibitions to stop you from doing something you thought could improve a work process or enhance personal effectiveness?

Following the rules and adhering to policy has its place, but sometimes there are good business reasons to apply personal creativity or take a unique approach. How you talk to people at work about doing something out of the ordinary makes a difference. Employees who want to try something new or different often look for a powerful ally at work and ask permission to try it out. That conversation creates a parent-child dynamic that can impede creativity and progress. Seeking permission can also put your boss or another ally on the spot you want to deviate from procedure, but he or she will be on the hook if things don't work out.

A better alternative is to seek an exception by making a promise for business results and delineating consequences if your idea doesn't work out. Such conversations show a willingness to put yourself on the hook and make visible and concrete the ways you will hold yourself accountable for results.
Here are five steps to help you construct a conversation around seeking an exception at work:
  1. Ask to meet with your supervisor and identify the exception you are seeking: "Thanks for taking the time to meet with me. I would like to work at home a few days a week because I think it will enhance my efficiency and save the company money."

  2. State the business reasons for doing so: "Many of my sales calls are closer to my home than the office, and I could use time more efficiently if I didn't have to work at the office. I have a phone and computer at home, and it's often easier to focus without all the distractions at the office. It would also save the company money on mileage expenses when I make sales calls."

  3. Ask for reservations and validate them: "I know the company has not historically let people work at home, and it sounds like you have reservations about making a special exception. You're also worried I might miss important meetings or be tempted to neglect my work if I am at home instead of the office."

  4. Offer a promise for results (and guarantee consequences) in exchange for the exception: "How about we try it for three months? If my sales don't increase by at least 10 percent, or if the situation creates communication problems with you and my coworkers, I'll go back to working at the office every day."

  5. Seek agreement: "What other suggestions do you have?" or "Are you willing to give this a try?"
If you get agreement, be sure to close with a summary of the conversation — even better, follow up with an email so everyone is clear on what is agreed to.  If your supervisor continues to have reservations or wants to check in with his/her boss, ask about an opportunity for future discussion. "Are you willing to consider this further? I will get back to you in a couple days."

Whether the answer is yes or no, you will have chosen to have an adult conversation that highlights personal accountability and an awareness of the need for business results.