In my limited experience so far, and from anecdotal evidence of nearly
everyone I’ve ever met who had a boss at one time or another, managers
as a whole still do not trust their employees. It’s a real shame if you
think about it, because the whole point of hiring employees is to
scale up and create an infrastructure capable of handling more work (and
ostensibly more profit) than you can now.
Instead, employees often are simple extensions of a boss, mere drones
blindly following a script as if the boss is remotely controlling each
one in a real life game of The Sims. In order to herd these drones,
bosses implement processes for the drones to follow. The end result is
that overall productivity and customer satisfaction is only
incrementally increased by a small amount with each new employee, while
costs increase, creating a top heavy organization.
Allow me to illustrate this point with something that occured this past
weekend which serves as the source of this rant. I went to one of these
newfangled “Destination”movie theaters to join some friends in watching
Star Wars Reveng of the Sith. This was the type of theater that
compelled patrons to pay a premium for the convenience of assigned
Upon arriving, a friend suggested we prepay $1.50 immediately for
parking to get a discount. After doing so, we both realized we had made
a mistake. With validation, parking is only $1.00 for four hours. We
informed the young lady who marked our ticket as having been paid that
we made a mistake, but she had no idea how to correct the situation. She
merely assured us that if we get our tickets validated, we’ll be able to
leave without having to pay again.
Well I’m not one to be upset about 50 cents so we left it at that,
watched the movie, and then left. On my way out, I handed my ticket to
the parking ticket. The ticket clearly displayed that I had already paid
$1.50 for parking. When the attendant put the ticket into the system,
it showed that I had validated the ticket as well. Good, so there’s no
problem I thought.
The attendant’s then proceeded to inform me that his screen states that
I owe $4.50 for parking. I chuckled to myself thinking, “Cool, we’ve
uncovered a bug in the system that hadn’t been anticipated by the QA
team. How neat.” Unfortunately, the attendant couldn’t make that
decision. It seemed awful clear to me. The rules state that with
validation, parking is only one dollar. His screen clearly shows that I
had been at the theater less than four hours, that I had indeed
validated my ticket, and that I had already paid more than one dollar.
Unfortunately, this attendant’s training hadn’t prepared him to make a
freaking decision. Instead, I sat there waiting for him to find out
the name of his supervisor form the othe attendants (how did he not know
this?) and then get permission from the supervisor.
You see, unless employees are trusted with decision making, they won’t
make a decision. Instead, they’ll blindly follow a process and then
become paralyzed when they uncover a glitch in the system. And there’s
always a glitch in the system.
Instead, all that is needed is to provide employees with a vision and
set of principles and then empower them to make decisions. Give them the
freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. In this particular case,
the simple principle of trying to maintain customer satisfaction should
have sufficed. It does not lead to customer satisfaction to have him
wait several minutes to leave with a line of cars behind after already
having paid for parking. The cost of a mistake is very low here, if
indeed I had’t paid for parking. But the cost in the case that I had
paid and am unhappy for being delayed (it was near midnight) is a
dissatisfied customer. And trust me, you’re not doing so well that you
can afford to alienate customers.
In this scenario, it was a small incident, nothing business threatening.
But scale it up a notch, and you begin to realize why so many companies
falter with head strong leadership and unempowered employees.