Business Lessons: Black, White, and a place for Common Sense

The ability to scale in any business hinges on the ability to create systems and procedures that are teachable and repeatable.   It is the key to delivering a consistent product or service.  When it is truly dialed in, it creates a level of autonomy that frees employees to literally and figuratively excel in their roles.  But here’s a warning…there is such a thing as too much black and white.

This past week I witnessed something I had seen before but never a situation with so many extenuating circumstances.  We all know airports were forced to increase their security procedures post after 9/11.  Travel the last two decades is significantly different than it was prior to Sept 11, 2001.  One of the many areas where changes were made was in the boarding process.  Once a final announcement is made the door to the jet bridge is closed and it’s not to reopened.  It’s very black and white.  

A place for common sense….

While waiting to catch a connecting flight Saturday, we watched a flight attendant make a final call and close the door to the jet bridge on a plane headed to Pasco, WA.  Within two minutes of the door closing, three out-of-breath, young mothers showed up with babies and I’m guessing a couple grandmothers.  The young mothers were basically in tears as they proceeded to bang on the now locked door to no avail.  You know where this is going….they all missed the flight.

Obviously, there is a black and white rule the airlines are directed to follow that once that jet bridge door is closed it can’t be reopened.  But an ounce of common sense would say when three young, out of breath mothers are standing at a gate with crying babies, banging on a door that had literally just shut, there should be some way to reopen the door and let them on their scheduled flight.  It makes no sense.  Instead, they were instructed to head back out into the terminal to a gate agent and reschedule on a later flight.  Who even knows when the next flight was?  It’s Pasco, WA, what are there 3 or 4 flights a day?

What is their opinion of Delta Airlines now?  What is the opinion of the all the travelers who were sitting in the terminal watching this unfold.   Did Delta gain any raving fans?  Are they going to be telling everyone about their great experience at the Salt Lake City airport?  

I realize there must be strict policies in place when it comes to aviation travel. But there should be a simple pathway to exceptions when a scenario like what was described above unfolds.  There needs to be a place to insert common sense. That’s the difference between a painful bureaucracy and an effective organization.

As you work to develop systems and procedures don’t underestimate the importance of making sure your management team, and your entire organization are being challenged to also keep common sense in your business.  You need to trust and empower your employees to make simple decisions when the opportunities present themselves.  Simplified checklists and clearly written procedures can be powerful in decision making, and what triggers quickly pull in someone else. (3 young mothers with 3 tired toddlers)

Hire the right people and give them room to grow.  Your employees want to make decisions that are in the best interest of your company.  They want you to be pleased with their performance and they want your customers (their customers) to be satisfied and happy too.   Keeping a little common sense in your playbook is one way to achieve both.

What about your business?   Is it too much black and white when it comes to policies and procedures?  Not enough?  Do you ever talk about situations where common sense is the right solution?   We would love to hear your thoughts on this. Feel free to share in the space below.

Chris Steinlage    Kansas City Business Coach