Ever had a great solution to a problem you’re dealing with only to find out that there’s a policy that forbids it? How about a practice that is embedded in the corporate culture, but seems to conflict with other practices? Join the club. We all face situations like these. In most cases there was probably a clear reason why the policy was put in place. But in others, it was the result of a one-time situation and someone over-reacted. So what do you do?

Smart decision makers learn to work within the system without getting stifled by it. This can be a delicate balance. On one hand, they don’t want to be loose cannons, complaining or causing trouble for themselves and others. On the other hand, there are times when someone has to challenge a rule, policy or practice that just doesn’t make sense. How do they do it? Here are their five secrets:

First, they take time to research the history behind the practice. The more they know about the reasoning, the more they can figure out how to work toward a positive outcome without appearing to game the system. The last thing they want to do is step on a landmine.

Second, they consider the power surrounding the policy. If this policy or rule is generally accepted, asking for a one-time exception is probably the best way to go. If a number of people think it’s counterproductive or even nonsensical, then they offer an alternative or argue that the policy or rule should be eliminated. They also find out who is most invested in the present rule. That person or persons may need to be won over discreetly before approaching others.

Third, they build a case for change. Smart decision makers are good at putting themselves in others’ shoes. If they want an exception to be made, they consider in advance how the decision maker may react. Then they prepare responses for those concerns so their idea is more readily accepted. They also use their network to find out how others might react to their actions or proposals. They don’t go behind a leader’s back to undermine him or her. They just do what they can to gather information. Trust has to be maintained.

Fourth, they present their case by offering an alternative that is to the advantage of the firm and the powers involved. This means presenting the proposal or request in a way that those making the decision will understand and embrace. By the way, if someone else ends up with the credit, they don’t fret or complain.

Fifth, they move on. No gloating, reliving their success to others or patting themselves on the back. After all, they’re working for the greater good. Over time, the people who count will notice. Arguing for improvement is just part of the job.

How can you implement these strategies within your work environment? Remember, others look to the best decision makers to initiate change.

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