It dawned on me yesterday as I was writing the post on when to bend the rules, that you first need to be able to teach the rules and why the rules exist. It is that “why” that makes all the difference. It is that “why” that allows your staff to know when the “why” doesn’t apply.
If you go to Google Images and type in “leader versus manager” you’ll get dozens of graphics that all say similar things. One of those things they say is …
“Managers do things the right way. Leaders do the right things.”
I will tell you that not only do you want to be a leader, you want to lead your team to be leaders. You want everyone to do the right things by your customers all the time—even if that means bending the rules.
Especially when that means bending the rules!
To do that, you need to do three things.
First, empower them to make decisions on the floor. Give them authority to bend rules as they see fit. Give them the ability to make the call so that they don’t have to constantly go “ask a manager.” Let them say Yes to the customer’s request and then figure out how to do it.
Second, train them to be able to make those decisions. Everyone on your team needs to know the rules, but also the purpose behind the rule and situations when the rule doesn’t apply (because it no longer serves the purpose). If you hire sheep, they’ll follow all the rules and could even be “manager material”, but if you hire compassionate problem solvers who love to help other people, they’ll be leaders once you arm them with the knowledge to know when and how to serve.
Third, encourage them every time they step out and lead. The first time your employee bends a rule to surprise and delight a customer she will be scared. Did she do the right thing? Was that what you wanted? Is she going to get yelled at? Those are normal reactions. How you react makes the difference between whether she bends another rule ever again.
Here is where your leadership comes into play. Chances are pretty good that her first bending of the rules won’t be perfect in your eyes. It won’t be how you would have handled the situation. But if you lead with, “That’s not how I would have done it,” I can promise you she won’t bend any more rules in the future. If, however, you lead with, “That was great to see you making that call! You made a difference for that customer. I might have done it a little different. The next time you do that, keep in mind …”
That second approach not only encourages her to do more, it green lights her to do more because you said, “The next time you do that …” She’ll be so excited, she’ll be looking for the next chance to surprise and delight a customer.
Remember, when it comes to rules …
- Bend the rules when it will surprise and delight the customer
- Break the rules if they aren’t customer-centric in the first place.
PS Most retail chain stores no longer do any serious training for their employees. Oh, they have a sixteen-page manual for how to do things right (especially when it comes to sexual harassment or anything else that might embarrass the company), but nothing about how to surprise and delight a customer. Just because they do it that way doesn’t make it right. If you want to be better than your competition you have to do things differently than the competition. Lead your team and turn even your part-time sales clerks into leaders. Don’t manage them into managers. Not only will your team perform better, you’ll make the world a better place.
PPS The big question is always, “But what happens if I spend all that time training them and they leave?” The better question is, “What if you don’t train them and they stay?”