– should an employee always follow protocol, even if they find it objectionable, immoral or deadly? Mind you, we don’t have enough information to form a final opinion in this specific case. Then we heard a new headline about Tim Hortons restaurant refusing to let a teenager use their phone to call for help during an asthma attack – again, quoting company policy. In the marketing game, managers quoting policy does not work as a defense of the policy.
Details of these particular incidents aside, my point is that we create policies for a reason. Occasionally, it is
even for a good reason. Most policies are about sales, service issues, handling exchanges or refunds, etc. When we use policies exclusively to run our business, we risk replacing the ability to think like humans. Policy can be handled by computers, so customers may as well only shop online. However, is it realistic to trust employees to use their best judgment and not give away the store? How do we strike a balance to empower employees to offer the best customer service and the safest environments, while following policies that we create for good reasons?
First, you have to have reasonable policies that balance the interest of the company with the interest of the employees and the interest of the customer. Have an objective mentor or consultant review your policies for you – what you think is fair, may be very one-sided and costing you sales, staff or both. At the very least, involve staff in the creation of policies, so you have input from different points of view.
Second, check with your competitors to make sure you are at least as generous. If you sell clothing and have a no-returns policy for example, this is completely unacceptable to the majority of retail customers. Customers don’t care about your legal loophole or small print; they expect you to take returns. I’m not telling you what to do with your business; I know, you are the owner or manager; it’s your decision so you can win the argument and lose the customer if you want. This week, one of my employees was unable to buy aspirin at a convenience store without buying more items to meet their minimum purchase requirement to use her debit card. I’m glad she wasn’t
having a heart attack at the time. After spreading the bad word-of-mouth advertising, she swears she will never darken their door again. If the standard in your business is free refills, or easy returns, or to take credit cards, or
free delivery, then you really need to do those things or have a compelling reason not to.
Finally, know the personality types of your staff and train accordingly. Some of our employees tell us that their prior
employers literally told them not to think. It’s your job to teach them to think about work situations, the way you
need them to think. Employees with a certain personality type may take every policy as absolute gospel under any circumstance. Others think rules are just general guidelines. In truth, most policies vary between the two and your staff needs to know which ones are which, and how much leeway they have to make decisions, especially in extreme situations. I don’t have a hard time getting employees to follow policy; they’ve had a lifetime of rules drilled into them by large companies trying to turn them into policy-quoting drones. This is seldom a good thing. I have a harder time getting employees to believe that they have the power to create better solutions on the fly. Give them examples, engage them in discussions and have them help you make decisions. This creates empowered people
to free you to work on more important things.
If, on the other hand, your particular problem is a lack of policies to worry about, well, that’s another matter. Small
businesses often lack policies that guide them through tough situations. Any situation (outside the normal course of what the owner does), that requires the owner’s personal attention on a repeating basis, probably needs a system or a policy. Let’s cover that another day, or contact me directly if this is an issue causing you great
Michael Kline is a local retailer, success coach and trainer. He may be reached through his website, www.klineseminars.com, or e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.