On reaching the airport he completed the check-in formalities and had an hour on hand before boarding announcement. He headed for the club, a special lounge offered by the airlines. As a frequent traveler, he was entitled to free admittance to the lounge.
He freshened himself up and settled down comfortably. A rack on the far side held newspapers of the day and some magazines. He picked up a magazine – he had already read the papers at home. The weekly was two-weeks old. A trifle irritated, he went for the monthly magazine on current affairs. Here again he had seen a more recent new issue with a magazine vendor.
He was not one of those guys to let the sleeping dogs sleep. He went up to the hostess in the lounge and drew her attention to the stack of dated magazines lying on the side-table.
The lady made a quick check and found it so.
She apologized to him and withdrew to her desk promising to take up the matter with the organizational function responsible for timely replenishment.
That was that. He resigned himself to reading advertisements, obituaries and reviews of some art shows.
In less than five minutes the hostess stood before him.
As he looked up, she handed him a stack of fresh magazines.
When his eye-brows arched up, she volunteered: ‘I bought them now, Sir.’
The magazines would have cost at least fifty rupees. He was certain she did not have the time to take it up with her back-office.
He was overcome with a sense of guilt: ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…you didn’t have to buy them out of your pocket.’
‘Don’t give it a thought, Sir. My company pays for it.’
Seeing a quizzical look on his face, she explained: ‘Sir, I’m allowed to spend up to fifty rupees a day for right reasons. This was one.’
This is a simple yet powerful story on enabling the (wo)man on the job to respond to unanticipated situations in the field towards an endearing outcome. It was shared with us as his personal experience by a senior executive – I cannot recall who it was – in an internal training program.
It is easy to imagine any number of scenes of a similar kind:
A staff in a shopping mall gives out a candy to distract a child throwing tantrums.
A cabbie takes a cut in the fare because of a detour made that his customer did not need.
A stores clerk taking in a return of goods when it could be argued both ways.
These acts are more commonly observed in operations that are not encumbered by thick policy books. This is not an argument against policy books. It’s just that a policy book must allow room for an employee to respond appropriately if the situation merits.
What about some corporate examples?
Lack of empowerment manifests in different flavors and is usually much more debilitating. That’s a story for another day.