Here’s a little story from the pub. It has nothing to do with policing…or does it?
I was waiting at the bar in a busy local pub recently when something happened that made me think about organizational trust and frontline staff empowerment. (Okay, I get bored easily, especially when I’m thirsty). A lady at the bar was waiting to order food whilst her adult disabled son sat a few feet behind her, alone at their table. He seemed somewhat distressed to be separated from his mother and kept calling across to her. She told him she wouldn’t be long but was clearly becoming uncomfortable, so as a waitress walked past she asked her politely if it was okay if her food order could be taken at the table, thereby allowing her to sit with her son.
The waitress appeared even more uncomfortable than the lady – her initial response was, “I’m really sorry but it’s company policy that food orders have to be taken at the bar”. The lady replied, “Ok, don’t worry about it then. Thanks anyway”. The waitress could have left it at that but she didn’t, as it must have dawned on her that whilst she had instinctively complied with policy, her response wasn’t helpful. She then voiced the opinion that she wanted to accommodate the lady’s request but would have to ask the manager first.
As luck would have it, the manager walked past at that moment and the waitress posed the question. The manager responded instantly, “Of course you can. No problem at all”. I could see the relief on the lady’s face, as well as that of the waitress, and they returned to the table where son and mother were reunited. The waitress began to take their food order and all was well. My mind then returned to beer until I started to think about what I had just witnessed.
Although it was contrary to usual procedure, no one else waiting to place food orders at the bar minded that the lady was allowed to order hers at her table. It was the clearly the right thing to do. The waitress knew it was the right thing to do. She wanted to help, but didn’t have the authority. The manager knew it was the right thing to do. She also wanted to help. It was obvious really.
So why not simply trust waiters and waitresses to make such decisions without having to refer them upwards, or seek permission before being able to help? Had the manager been unavailable at that moment, the situation could have been painfully drawn out whilst waiting for someone who could make this straightforward decision. Let’s face it; if a member of waiting staff made the wrong decision in similar circumstances, what harm could be done? What is the risk? Pretty much nothing, I reckon.
The lesson here is this – in most cases your staff will probably make the same decision as you would anyway. What’s more, it will probably be the right decision. Why not just let them do it?