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 seating.

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.