When trusting employees to do the right thing doesn’t work…

…Whose fault is it? The employee or the individual implementing the new policy or procedure? Throughout my career I have maintained that if you empower your employees to have more authority and flexibility to satisfy customers, they will all be happier. I said this in the blog post on sacred cows during my self-proclaimed February’s Customer Service Awareness Month.

“The sacred cow mentality is so prevalent because many companies don’t trust their employees to make a sound decision without giving away too much. I agree that trusting an employee to make a decision is a bold and stunning idea for some businesses. The uneducated underlings (their words and actions not mine) weren’t competent enough to make decisions”.

However the one thing I forgot to include and mention was the potential unintended consequences of such a trust. Yes, some employees will use their judgement in satisfying their customers judiciously. On the other hand, some employees will literally give away the store and cause the business to lose money. Here is an excerpt from the Ethical Reflection newsletter (Marcy J Maslov www.businessethicscoach.com);

 “So how do you create and implement new policies and what unintended consequences are you inadvertently creating? Do you involve others in your new policies? Do you beta test the procedures before launching? Do you consider all aspects, both financial and non-financial, of implementing something new?

Big Boss created a policy allowing anyone to make company purchases under $500 without manager approval to cut down on paperwork. The company’s most popular product sells for $499 and when this policy takes effect 1,000 employees ordered this product for “office use”. e-Factor! ®   scenario

It appears that management’s intent was to cut down on paperwork overload which could be a great idea. It could also be argued that Big Boss wanted to give more responsibility to the workers to make business decisions (also a great idea). However, it also appears that Big Boss did not fully understand the potential impact of removing managerial oversight on purchases.  Possibly Big Boss did not fully understand the employee demand for this type of product and their interpretation of the new policy that gave them perceived permission to place the order.

Communication was at best confusing or unclear.  And the impact to the business?  The company was forced to manufacture products for internal use rather than for external sale and profit. There are financial and tax implications occurring here.”

This scenario that Marcy presented is the exact reason that most businesses, usually managers and C-suiters, will rebel at the idea of empowering employees to make decisions with customers. While the above scenario doesn’t necessarily involve external customers, the end result is the same and “can’t be used because we can’t trust them to do the right thing!”

The question then arises…have the employees been trained to do the right thing and how to wield their new found empowerment for the betterment of the customer, company, and themselves? Usually, along with the other factors mentioned, is a flat out no. “They should know that! We don’t need to tell them again!”

Communication is one of those buzzwords that everyone uses but no one seems to utilize it fully. I have talked about it extensively, getting rid of sacred cows, and perceptions of…everyone & everything you do or don’t do. But… Without effective communication, especially when rolling out new programs… is a recipe for a company wide disaster and financial loss.

Big boss wanted to do the courageous thing and begin to trust his employees to do the right thing, never an easy decision to make for any company. Yet when he implemented this new policy it backfired on him spectacularly.

Then the question has to be raised… who was involved in the decision making process? Obviously, despite their position within the company, they reacted like most their managers do when subordinate screws up something, or a parent to their kids… did you really think this through?

Trusting and empowering your employees to make the proper decision either for customers or the company is never a bad idea. Despite unintended consequences at times, I still believe that more companies should allow their employees to do it. If they did they would engender more trust between all levels.

Does this possibly mean a loss of resources or something else? Of course it does… but doesn’t everything in business have that potential?

But does this mean allowing the employees to run roughshod over supervisors and managers to accomplish the mission, either the companies or employees without any oversight? Of course not. A no is still a no and the employees have to follow the procedures and policies, albeit bending them out of shape when necessary.

You can’t utilize the workplace violence inducing attitude of ‘Not Invented Here’ attitude to quell the idea of empowering employees and trusting them. But utilizing the invented here attitude can go a long way towards engendering trust, solid effective communications, and a stronger overall workforce making good business decisions for customers, the company, and themselves.


Marcy J Maslov office is located in Scottsdale, AZ. Her website is www.businessethicscoach.com

or contact her via e-mail at:


Robert D. Sollars assists businesses and their employees to lessen their risk of WPV as well as other security/customer service related issues. You can follow him on his Facebook page, facebook.com/oneistooomany, or twitter@robertsollars2.

                                   I May be Blind but my Vision is Crystal Clear

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