Merge's Blog

Empower your employees to make decisions and take action

A couple of weeks ago I was having dinner with several clients at a popular eatery in Chicago.  The atmosphere was lively and the conversation animated, and while emphasizing a particular point, one of my dinner partners accidentally knocked over her drink.  A staff member rushed over to clean it up and our waitress offered a refill.

“Yes please” replied my colleague, “but this time, could you put it into a short glass instead of a tall one.”  “I want to make sure I don’t spill it again,” she said with a smile.

Imagine my surprise when the waitress’ brow furrowed and she replied, “I don’t think I can do that.  We only make this drink in tall glasses.  I’ll have to check with the bartender, but I can’t make any promises.”

Seriously?!  Our collective jaws dropped as the waitress left to determine whether such a breach in beverage protocol would cause havoc and consternation in the kitchen!

Much to my relief, the situation ended as it should have, with the aberrant beverage being replaced within five minutes in a short glass.  But the interaction got me wondering … why did the waitress find it necessary to give the response that she did?  Was this truly a decision that required someone else’s concurrence and approval to happen?  Why didn’t she feel empowered to simply answer “Of course, I’ll get that for you right away (in a short glass)”?  My guess is that her past experiences at this workplace (or perhaps others) had taught her that making independent decisions on her own would result in reprimand or failure.  So it was far easier to ask for permission before taking any action.  And as a result, she gave us a decidedly non-customer focused answer.

So it begs the question.  Are your employees empowered to make decisions and take action, or do they feel the need to ask for permission at every juncture?  What kind of a workplace are you creating – one that is client-focused or one that is task-focused?

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