Just recently, I was in the security line at the airport. I was told by an airline representative that I was only allowed one carry-on, my briefcase. My purse counted as a noncompliant second bag. I was instructed to stuff my purse into my briefcase so that I would achieve the magical one-carry-on limit. I was stunned by the perplexing logic of that rule, but at the same time somewhat amused.
In June, we learned of the now infamous group of U.S. soldiers returning home from Afghanistan on Delta Airlines. At check-in, they were told to pay $200 each for their fourth bag. Delta policy only allowed three bags. Even though their military orders stated that these bags were covered by the Army-Delta contract, they were still made to pay according to policy. Two soldiers filmed a YouTube video about the incident. The video went viral. And as you guessed, Delta changed their policy. Soldiers are now allowed four bags. But damage was done.
To the Delta employees at check-in, the situation likely made them feel horrible, and they likely wanted to make an exception. But what stopped them? A policy in which they would be strictly measured on related outcomes? A policy that was void of exception and escalation solutions? A policy in which employees are bound by rules that bias the use of their own judgment or discernment?
I truly do believe that policies are critical doctrines for achieving excellence, discipline and focused results for organizations. I also understand the natural tendency of surrounding ourselves with policies to avoid the risk and nuisance associated with consumer dissatisfaction and possible legal liabilities. But the truth is, even though we conduct the most thorough risk assessments, we simply can't predict all possible scenarios to which we apply a mitigating policy.
It is for those situations we need to enable our employees and create more environments where they can gain experience in making decisions using judgment -- even if at times it results with less-than-favorable outcomes for the company. A great quote by Jim Horning: "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
Offering customers true value, differentiating services and reliable support is what will allow organizations to survive going forward. The speed at which organizations are expected to service and hear their consumers is getting faster, not slower.
We cannot afford to repeatedly handcuff and impede employees with unwavering scripts, impenetrable policies or rigid rules. Customer-facing employees need to rapidly think "outside the box'' to create ingenious solutions to consumer problems. With that, we need to learn to trust our employees' judgment.
I read a curious article from 2008 about the former Tribune Co. CEO and his approach in crafting his employee policy handbook.
It allegedly read in simple language. It was light on the usual detailed prohibitions. Instead, core values and guidelines were listed that encouraged employees to think about the risks associated with what they did at work. Interestingly enough, at the outset it spoke of one cardinal rule: "Rule 1: Use your best judgment; Rule 2: See Rule 1."
JOANNA MAKOMASKI is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques.
September 1, 2011
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