Our phone rang. It was my Dad. A Christmas food gift we had sent my parents had just come out of their oven. It was inedible - spoiled. And, to make matters worse, it had been prepared to serve to guests. I contacted the company the following business day and explained the situation. I simply asked that a replacement be sent out ASAP.
To my surprise, I received an email with the following instructions, “In order to offer a replacement we would need the ‘product’ or at least a third of it returned in order to give to Quality Control to inspect. Without the product we would not be able to offer a replacement or refund. That’s our policy.”
Seriously? We were being asked to – sort through garbage – repackage spoiled product – and pay for reshipment. A series of additional communications took place - the issue escalated to “management” – and several days later was finally resolved. Here’s the fundamental question - why wasn’t the customer rep simply empowered to make choices and create desired business outcomes (satisfied customer, repeat business, and positive publicity as I share my experience with others)?
Research suggests that the opportunity to exercise personal discretion/choice (and complete meaningful work) is an important element contributing to employee performance, engagement, and well-being. High performance organizations work hard to minimize perceived barriers with empowerment. But, they do set temporary empowerment boundaries based on maturity, confidence, and trust between leaders and employees.
Empowerment stands on three legs - responsibility, accountability, and authority. It’s the last leg (authority) that organizations struggle with the most. Here are some key questions:
- What decisions do your employees say they want and/or need to make but can’t? Are there empowerment barrier or boundary issues to address?
- What messages do your approval processes send to employees about trust and empowerment?
- How often do your customers hear, “I’ll have to check with my boss?”
- How is empowerment influencing individual accountability in your organization?
Unlock the power of employees’ capacity and capability. Create an organization where decisions are made quicker and at lower levels. Increase the open sharing of diverse ideas and levels of trust and collaboration. Maybe even turn “spoiled product” into higher perceived customer value and service?