Does asking for forgiveness rather than permission really work?

Does asking for forgiveness rather than permission really work?

“Ask for forgiveness instead of permission” is a cliché that has withstood the test of time. As every cliché goes, this too is founded on truth. Would it have been able to become a cliché otherwise?

According to the saying, you must take the initiative and carry forward with action that you believe in instead of waiting for permission from the authority. Waiting on authorisation can take up the crucial time in which your action could have been effective.

How do you know what you should do?

Truth be told, even though managers today stress on the empowerment of their employees – your position in the workspace hierarchy is a determinant nevertheless. You can’t take your manager’s words to heart if you are an intern unless you want to risk losing your job. An intern must solicit their manager for every important workplace decision.

The same does not hold true for a mid-level executive. A mid-level executive has usually been in the service of the company for some time and is expected to take his/her own decisions without having to knock at the manager’s door every time. 

So, what would be considered appropriate behaviour in the first instance, that is deemed to be unnecessary and unwanted in the second?

Why asking for permission is no longer desired in workplaces

Modern workplaces want employees who are confident self-starters and innovators. These employees are rewarded for being empowered and accountable for their decisions. 

Empowered employees also add to workplace productivity. When an individual doesn't always have to think about whether they have to get their actions pre-approved at work from the management, they are better able to focus on the work itself. It inculcates a sense of responsibility for the work being done too. He/she feels more encouraged to perform their share of work and starts to identify themselves as a part of the bigger organisation. The company's goals become their goals too, and they strive to achieve the same. If the company suffers a setback, they feel equally responsible for this setback and work harder to benefit the company.

How to ask for forgiveness in the workplace

Say, you've, but your actions haven't had the desired outcome. What do you do? Well, you appeal to the management for forgiveness. There's a manner in which you can do this. Here are some tips to help you out –

  • Remind the administration that you were briefed when you joined that yours is an empowered workforce. So, even if they want to blame you for the actions that misfired, they can’t. After all, the decision was yours to take.
  • Tell them you wanted to be sure your actions were profitable before proceeding to inform them. Again, this shows a sense of responsibility for your actions. It says that you had every intention of letting them know where you were going with your actions, but since they didn't work out, you didn't want to disappoint your managers.
  • Have your numbers ready. You need to make a case and show that your actions were well researched. So, in case your plan fails, and you're being held accountable. Show them the numbers and your calculations. Merely having the numbers ready goes a long way in affirming that your actions were not careless. 

You’ll find forgiveness to come easier than you expected

If an organisation has laid out employee empowerment as part of its culture, it will accept when an employee's decisions fail. The management of these organisations fosters a sense of trust in their workforce allowing employees to take their own decisions as they please. Some of these decisions may not work out, but they will be learning experiences for the employees. 

Contemporary management tactics hail employee-empowerment as a method to maximise employee engagement. The more an employee is allowed to take their own decisions for themselves, the more invested they feel in their work. The more they are invested in their work, the more encouraged they are to work. Similarly, they also feel a sense of responsibility for the work they are doing and how it affects the larger organisation. When employees begin to identify with the organisation that they're working for, they automatically internalise the organisation's goals and objectives. It leads to better workplace productivity for the organisation.

If an employee takes a misstep and find themselves being criticised for this rather harshly in a company they thought believed in employee empowerment; the company doesn't believe in practising what they preach. Such an attitude is harmful to companies to have. Either they profess to uphold employee empowerment and allow their employees to take their own decisions or they follow the age-old top-down managerial approach. Companies need to be clear on which path they'd like to exercise for their employees to perform accordingly. Workplace confusion never did any good. 


Companies today don't believe in instructing their employees on every step of the way. Instead, they introduce the employees to the existing culture in their companies and ask them to keep in mind the company's vision and goals. The rest is left to them to do with as they please. What this does is inspire a sense of ownership among the employees. The employees begin to recognise their work and role in the company and feel valued. As a result, they work harder to achieve company goals. They identify with the company vision and encourage newer employees to do the same.

At no point do they feel stifled by the management for being dictated to. The management does not interfere in their day-to-day tasks. They can now work on their own time and finish the functions they've been assigned in a manner, i.e. more conducive for them. The management won't be breathing down their neck. If the employee does commit a blunder, they can go to the management and express their regret. The administration will understand that the error was well-intentioned instead of reprimanding the employee for their gap in judgement.

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