Are your Rules Keeping Your Staff from Thinking?

Going through security at the airport the other day, I dutifully took my shoes off, pulled my laptop out of my briefcase, and placed my carry on luggage on the x-ray belt. At the last moment I remembered my "liquids" and pulled them from my carry on. Being the wise traveler that I am, I had already put my three liquid containers (toothpaste, shampoo, and deodorant) into a clear plastic ziplock baggie.

The TSA agent picked up my plastic bag, carefully inspected the contents, and then explained to me that the baggie I had put the three items in was too large. She gave me an "approved" baggie and I moved my three items from the "too big" baggie into the approved baggie.

Not three minutes prior, the overhead recording had explained to me the 3-1-1 rule. No item more than three ounces, in one one-quart baggie. This was done, the recording explained, to limit the number of items I could put in one baggie.

Mind you, my "oversized" baggie had exactly three items in it (all under three ounces). Yet I'm required to move the items to an approved size baggie? Why?

The simple fact is, the TSA agent was given rules, and she was following the rules. But either she didn't understand the purpose of the rules, understood the rules and chose to enforce them for no reason, or had been told to never, ever, ever bend the rules. In any case, she was completely disempowered. Bag is too big? Replace it, regardless of why we have that rule in the first place.

I realize this is a small thing, but look around your organization and ask yourself: Does your staff understand the reasoning behind your business rules? Or are they busily following rules that hamper customer satisfaction, create more work than necessary, and generally disempower staff from making decisions?

Ritz-Carlton is famous for allowing any employee up to $2000 to resolve a customer's complaint, no questions asked. That's a lot of empowerment. And trust. Why don't you trust your employees that much?

About Wes Trochlil

For over 30 years, Wes has worked in and with dozens of associations and membership organizations throughout the US, ranging in size from zero staff (all-volunteer) to over 700. In that time Wes has provided a range of consulting services, from general consulting on data management issues to full-scale, association-wide selection and implementation of association management systems.

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