People Over Policy

I’ve talked about this before, but another wonderful reminder has inspired me to write about this again.  I’ve always tried to hire folks who think for themselves and then EMPOWER them to do their job.  I don’t like to micro-manage (though I’ve had to force myself to grow in this area), and I don’t like to say I’m not going to micro-manage and then look over their shoulders, judging their every move.  I have had this experience in other settings in my life, and I just choose not to be involved in those circles anymore.

Policy is written mostly by folks who have never been on the front lines.  The rules are written often to eliminate stupid mistakes of the few and make everyone else jump through hoops because of it.  Of course we need rules and policies; but many are ridiculous when measured against pure intent.

In the end, every business and success in life involves a relationship.  It requires getting out of the mechanical mode (which often accompany policy) and addressing the needs of human beings.  One great challenge of leadership then, is to empower people to make decisions to address the needs of people; even if it requires wise decisions to walk outside of the lines of customary policy.  Their wisdom may not always be wise, but their intent will be and will usually overshadow the imperfections of mistakes in judgment.

On a recent trip, my wife and I had a few hours to kill in Los Angeles on our way to a leadership gig.  We decided to leave the airport and go find an In-N- Out (famous hamburger joint for those who have not been to hamburger mecca).  We started to get a taxi, but the curbside taxi manager said “Hey, you can save $40.00 bucks if you get on “the parkingspot bus”, which takes folks to their cars and is right next to In N Out.  Perfect, and thanks for the tip we said.  Now I bet this curbside taxi cab manager broke a rule in being kind enough to not allow us to be gouged for a ride less than 2 miles away—but he had a better solution to serve a human being and not feed a meter.  We hailed a parkingspot bus.  Upon entry, we announced the truth about our plan—we didn’t have a car parked in their facility but were looking for a free ride to In-N- Out.  The lady said “That’s against policy now, but I’ll be happy to help you out”.

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We tipped her kindly as she even instructed us how to exit their facility to walk the twenty feet to In-N -Out, and how to return to watch for her to take us back on her next rounds.  When we arrived to their facility, she also was forthright with her manager about sneaking us to In-N-Out, to which he gave us an understanding “Hang Ten” sign.  I do believe the Hamburger God’s were watching over us.  I thought it was interesting that even though policies were in place to protect their company’s profit, the folks on the front line made decisions that supported the human being first.  Good on them!!

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In this picture we are seated at In-N-Out and looking over at the parking garage.  Remember this principle, People over Policy—it really does work when exercised with wisdom.

On our return trip, we had the same kind lady driver.  The manager smiled and even ran some bottled water from their refrigerator to us—so happy was he that we were happy—and not even a customer of his.  On our trip both to the parking garage and back to the airport, we were the only passengers.  Sometimes when we just do the right thing regardless of policies that were written for the weakest of creatures, the space is made for the experience to be special.

The result of her kindness to us was a high regard for the company she worked for and for her manner of doing business personally; and we haven’t even used their services (at least on a paying basis).  The kindness she extended trumped a policy that would have prevented this kind act.  FYI, we did reward her generously for her genuine care; though she was not doing this deed for money.

Now on to New Zealand—this lesson is going to be taught to a large group of young adults in the leadership seminars we are invited to participate in.  What kind of a thought leader am I to teach that breaking the rules is OK sometimes?  A good one I hope.

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Who wouldn’t break a rule or two for this?

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