Common sense these days seems more and more scarce and it’s time leaders of companies bring it back into the equation.
When I pointed a problem at a neighborhood grocery store, the employee’s answer showed me his bosses aren’t using common sense in their policies when problems arise.
The other day, I visited the store, purchased a few items and used one of the self check-out aisles. As a general rule, I despise the self check-outs. My very first job was at Kmart as a cashier and I quickly learned to be one of the fastest checkers. I’d see people move to my line when they saw me clearing people out faster. It was a nice feeling, even though it meant I was doing more work than some of my colleagues.
The self check-outs don’t allow for the speed of the old “Scan and Bag” philosophy Kmart demanded. They want for you to bag each item one at a time. Have three of the same thing? Nope, you’re going to scan one, then bag it, wait for the computer to detect the appropriate weight added to the bagging area, then scan the second. And so on.
You can’t possibly be efficient in a self check-out.
I could do a whole post on that some day…and I probably will.
But the problem this night was something else.
I scanned my little reward card, yet another annoyance grocery stores have thrown at us rather than just lowering the prices to begin with.
Whenever you scan your card, the computer looks at a database of purchases you’ve made in the past and at present. It then spits out coupons you can use on your next purchase.
And, in this case, therein lay the problem.
The little computer spit out four coupons.
Four blank coupons.
Something was wrong with the thermal printer; apparently, it had gone cold. The paper had nothing on the front, and an endless line of preprinted rules and regulations in orange type on the back.
I waited for the single attendant they have to watch over four checkout lines to finish with another customer.
I handed him the blank coupons and said their printer was just burning trees for no reason at all.
“Yeah,” he said. “But I can’t really turn the printer off because if I do, my bosses will get mad and tell me to turn it back on.”
Employers, common sense is not your enemy.
This employee believed that his managers would get upset about him turning off a piece of equipment that wasn’t working properly. The only logical reason he’d believe something so seemingly illogical is if he’d been scolded in the past over either that specific thing or for trying to take similar action to temporarily suspend a piece of equipment that wasn’t serving its purpose.
There’s no other reason he would think he’d get in trouble for turning off something that’s only wasting energy and money (in the form of multiple feet of paper it’s literally wasting with every transaction).
Why, leaders, would you want your employees to feel they’re not empowered to solve at least simple problems?
If you have a piece of equipment that’s causing waste in your business and providing nothing to your customers, why wouldn’t you want your employee to step in and at least stop that small trickle of financial hemorrage? Why would you possibly prefer that the employee would knowingly let the failure continue to happen?
Most leaders know they have to roll with the punches and make judgment calls based on situations that aren’t covered in an employee manual. Sometimes, you have to take existing policies and interpret them to fit a narrow, specific situation and react accordingly.
Making your workers feel they can’t do so, even when basic common sense dictates that they do, isn’t leading. You’re cheating your business and you’re cheating yourself by refusing to grow a group of real problem-solvers within your organziation.
Sure, blank coupons aren’t the end of the world.
But they’re beginning of an indication that something may well be wrong with how leaders are leading.