Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The folly of policies

I just learned of an intriguing book, The Six Thousand Dollar Egg, by Todd Duncan.  To summarize his anecdote, he and his wife ate at a specific restaurant three times a week (spending around six grand there a year) because they loved their hamburgers so much (those must have been some very good burgers to eat there three times a week).

One day the waiter explained the new special: a waffle with an egg on top.

Duncan declined - stating that he and his wife loved their burgers.  But he said his wife happened to love eggs and asked if his wife's hamburger could come with an egg on it (they should have eaten at TRF's The Black Cat, which has that very burger on their menu).

This leads to the manager explaining that this cannot be done.  There is no policy.  What if they run out of eggs to go with the waffles for the special? Never mind they may have no one order the special, all the while they had regularly loyal customers willing to pay extra for an egg on their favorite menu item.

But it could not be done.  It was against the restaurant's policy.

So Duncan and his wife left and never went back.

That's the story of the $6,000 egg.

For me, there are two takeaways here -

1.  How important it is to please your loyal customers.

2.  The folly of following policies to a T.

In hindsight, one would think - if they owned the restaurant - that they would be unhappy to lose two loyal customers who spend six grand a year at their restaurant . . . when a little wisdom would have taken care of it and maybe even led to the couple being even more loyal.

This great TED Talk illustrates the loss of wisdom (which results in our obsession to follow policies, even when our instinct (or what should be our wisdom) should know better).

Mr. Schwartz highlights one example of the folly of policies - a professor takes his son to a baseball game.  His son wants lemonade.  The man tries to order some, but is told they only have Mike's Hard Lemonade.  So the man orders it (he's a professor, an intellectual, so I can see where the mistake would come) anyway and gives it to his son.

Someone sees the kid drinking Mike's Hard Lemonade and alerts the ballpark's security.  They follow policy regarding this and alert the police.

They follow policy and call the ambulance.

The man is brought before a judge who follows policy and keeps the man from returning home while his son is there since he was contributing to the corruption of a minor.

Anywhere along the way in hindsight someone could have said, the kid isn't drunk or doing keg stands or shot gunning bears in the bathroom, how about making the dad aware that his kid is drinking alcohol, not whatever he thought 'hard' lemonade was.

Policies have good intentions.  Those policies were in place to protect children and somewhere a judge released a father to return home and that father likely beat (or worse) his kids again; thus, the need for a policy to keep the man away from his own kids.

However, where is the wisdom in knowing when to stick to policy and when to refrain?

Here is another (tragic) example - Two young boys are badly sunburned when a daycare takes them to a local waterside.  Now, if this story is legit, it illustrates the problem with policies.

Many daycare providers (as ours does) state that parents are to apply suntan/sunblock lotion prior to dropping their kids off.  I can see the reason for this - allergies and personal beliefs and so on.

However, I know for a fact that if Glenda took our kids to the beach or tubing or to a water park, she would make sure that they had sunblock applied.

Yes, the kids were told to keep their clothes on, but where is the wisdom?  You're taking kids to a waterpark!  Why even take the chance of not applying sunblock to the kids?  Or make sure the kids have applied it to themselves?  Do you want to be responsible for them suffering sunburns?  

Why not change the policies to make sure wisdom is used discretely. Like at Dutch Brothers coffee, where they make it okay for their bro-istas to comp a coffee to a loyal customer if their day is rough or if they order the wrong drink or if they just want to brighten their day! Or where he encourages his employees to connect with their customers, so much so that when one worker at a Dutch Brothers coffee store found out a customer's son was ill, he and the whole team from the store went to visit the boy at the hospital and read him books and made him laugh!  Think his mother and father will ever think of buying coffee anywhere ever again?

 Or at Ramsey Solutions where their owner, Dave Ramsey, at his weekly Monday morning meetings celebrates the time his workers extend grace.  In one example I recall, a church called stating that their supply of "Financial Peace University" was lost in a hurricane.  They were seeking to order (and pay for) replacement copies.  But the worker sent them replacement copies for free.  Because it was the right thing to do.

Ramsey himself talks about a time one of his salesman - who worked on a very narrowly defined commission - managed to maneuver a huge million dollar deal for Ramsey.

The was one catch, though, it was outside of the man's narrowly defined commission area.  He still did the right thing for his boss, regardless if he got his commission or not.

And do you know what Ramsey did?  He could have said he had to follow his policy and not pay him.  But Ramsey did pay him.  Why?  It was the right thing to do.  It was the wise thing to do, after all, he wanted his worker to do more deals like that.  And not paying him his commission on a technicality wouldn't have exactly motivated him.

Or what if this man's post office had a policy about not talking to customers (it might slow their efficiency), yet this man went out of his way to do the right thing!

I'm reminded of when we lived in Red Lake Falls an our fuel oil man, Dick, refilled our tank.  He would have me sit in the cab and gave me Tootsie Rolls.  I looked forward to his visits.

This UPS man reminds of the type of service Dick used to provide.

And I don't think it's coincidence that one of Dick's sons, Jason, now a school bus driver, so engages and inspires the kids on his bus that he is able to give them homework!  Other bus drivers find a way to develop new policies to cut down engagement and connections.

Let's seek to find the right thing to do instead of resorting to blindly following policies.

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