Monica Wofford is a leadership development coach and speaker specializing in transitioning managers to leaders. For more information, go to www.MonicaWofford.com or call 1-866-382-0121

Yoo hoo, remember me? I’m the human behind the way in which companies tend to calculate employees. We’re the people behind and sometimes in front of the policies.

Your office policies exist for a reason, but how they land on those you lead and are then shared with the customers they see makes a big difference. For example: A clerk greeted the patient with “Hey” and then shared a slight smirk. She processed the appointment checkout with minimal patient engagement and then balked when the patient dared to ask a question. “When will I get the results?” she said. “You’ll have to come in for that. We don’t know when they’ll come in and the doctor will be out for two weeks, so you’ll just have to make an appointment and hope for the best.” The patient asked for a phone call instead. The clerk quickly said, “That’s not our policy and we have to follow our policies.” Sadly, this statement is more common than you might think and what it usually conveys is “I don’t think your special enough to do it differently.” Yet we tell people “it’s just out policy, don’t take it personally”. The question is do your leaders realize the personal nature of all policies? Do they realize how much customers can tend to take the policies personally? Before you answer, read these three reasons why all your leadership policies may start out to benefit the business, but without question are personal for everyone else.

Policies are Created by People

This may sound silly, but no policy appears out of thin air without a committee, team or manager having had input at some level. Someone, somewhere, in some office, even if nowhere near yours believed this policy would meet a need for some team or employee. You may never know if its creation included all the data needed or was developed with true objectivity, yet the reality is, someone or some group of someone’s created the policy. It’s personal, or was, to someone. The challenge behind the creation of a new policy is this: how much of the originator’s personal agenda has been included? For example, one manager following our consulting meeting, created an entire document meant to update all team members on the new client contract policies. Most of the policies were not, in fact, new, but just not being followed. The idea had been to remind everyone of existing guidelines, but the result was a long list of all the actions employees were missing and that had failed to be addressed in some form of discipline. The document became this manager’s attempt to reprimand everyone without ever having to face any conflict. It was very definitely personal and thankfully revised well before being sent out. Policies are created by people.

Are your policies objective in nature and serve a worthy purpose or are they a way for someone to hide behind their own personal beef with another person?

Some Policies Protect People

In the healthcare industry, there are a plethora of policies that protect people, both patients and employees. Most wouldn’t want a nosy unauthorized party to learn the details of their private medical history. But when the policy is leaned on heavily or even used as a crutch, how much frustration does a consumer encounter who has a logical and sound reason for making an inquiry. There are certainly laws that supersede policies, but the simple truth is most employees, and most leaders, hide behind policies when faced with tough situations. They believe the policy protects them from additional effort or provides some type of job security. For example, an American Express representative recently told a caller if they made a two thousand dollar purchase, it would be covered by points. Once the purchase was made, the mistaken information discovery was made, however, American Express hid behind their policy of taking two weeks to locate a call recording, claiming to have lost it because they don’t record daily, and refusing to grant the customer phone access to a higher level of management for discussion. The emotion with which this story was told to me indicates just how much the policies made served only to protect the company who made them, and just lost a twenty year platinum card holding customer.

Do your policies protect your employees from having to learn the skills to handle a difficult customer? Worse still, do you teach them to hide behind policies while acting as if what you seek is a workforce of empowered employees?

Some Policies Prevent People

In teaching customer service courses years ago, one frequently well received saying I used was “Customers wear a sign around their neck that says ‘Make me feel special’. It’s something Mary Kay used to say and holds true for all customers no matter what they actually say. The policies in place at your workplace often prevent an employee from actually being able to make a customer feel this way. Every day in stores, offices, law enforcement, hospitals, entertainment, and any number of other locations, policies are broken for those who are deemed to be most special. Business is done with, by, and through PEOPLE, thus the connection made, the relationship built, the benefits at play, and the authority level of the leader determines what policies stick and which ones get overlooked. Thus, the message conveyed when your employees say “That’s our policy” is “and you don’t qualify for me to break it”. While some employees may think this prevents them from being disciplined, the reality is for many it’s one lost customer closer to unemployment.

Are your policies preventing employees from going the extra mile, creating a wow experience or otherwise delighting the customer or co-worker on the receiving end?

The policies you create and those you teach others to adhere to are all personal, to you, those you lead and the customers who come to you for your product or service. What people are prevented from doing and protected from getting is personal, too and those who create those policies that seem to make no sense are people, too. This is not a vote for policy free living, but three scenarios designed to help leaders consider the customer and employee perceptions they’re responsible for creating when policies are made and the non-helpful ones remain in place.

I’m Monica Wofford and that’s your Monday Moment. Have a great week, an even better Monday, and of course, stay contagious!

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