A recent encounter reinforced for me how detrimental well-intended policies can be. I am going to be traveling internationally and went to a bank to request foreign currency. The teller explained that I needed to speak with the manager. The manager explained the exchange process, calculated the rate and fees, and completed the paperwork for the transaction. He explained that I would receive a call when the currency arrived. All of this sounds reasonable, right?
It was the incident when I tried to retrieve the funds that confounded me. When I returned to the bank, I was, once again, told by the teller that I had to see a manager. The manager came to the lobby to explain that she was with another client and the wait would be 20–30 minutes. I asked why the tellers — there were two of them with no queue — couldn’t take care of this transaction. Her response was, “It’s bank policy.”
Not being able to wait 30 minutes, I called later in the day to see if I could make arrangements to pick up my currency and made the trip back to the bank. The practice required a manager to count out the currency in front of me, having me count it out myself, and sign that I received it. When I asked how this was any different from the process that the tellers follow when I ask for a withdrawal from my account, the manager did not have an answer, only that “this is bank policy.”
Think for a moment about the layers of frustration. Mine, as their customer, having to make multiple trips to conduct a simple transaction. The manager being tasked to enforce a policy that they do not understand,.and the teller, who was hired to be able to assist customers and whose hands are tied.
Oftentimes policies are written in an effort to prevent or mitigate even the most infrequent of situations. The intent may be correct, “Let’s ensure a positive customer interaction.” In the case I illustrated above, it could have come from a scenario where a customer didn’t understand the process. Unfortunately, the policy alienates both the majority of the customers and the majority of your workforce.
As a leader, I would invite you to think about the policies and practices you have in place, are they there to leverage the potential of the talent in your organization? Do they help employees understand how to align their efforts with the mission, values, and goals of the company?