Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Policy should never trump people

My dad tweeted a very cool article by Richard Branson who wrote how an employee of his airline, Virgin Atlantic, personally refunded a customer from her own pocket in order to help him reach his destination in time:

Another story that demonstrates the importance of the service chain involves my own company, Virgin Atlantic. An Upper Class customer's free limo failed to connect with him at his New York City hotel. (It turned out the customer had been waiting at the wrong door.) He jumped in a cab to Newark Liberty International Airport, a fair distance from the city. Traffic was bad. By the time he got to the airport he was angry, late and panicking. But the Virgin agent calmed the fuming customer, apologizing profusely and assuring him that he would not miss his flight. From her own pocket, she refunded his taxi fare and rushed him through to the gate with 10 minutes to spare. Like the leather jacket incident, it demonstrates how great customer service can convert a negative into a positive. 
But here the chain broke. The agent told her supervisor what happened and asked to be repaid the $70 cab fare. Rather than congratulating the agent on saving the day, the supervisor asked for a receipt. When her answer was, “There was no time for that,” he chastised her. He said, “No receipt, no reimbursement. You'd better take more care next time.”
I find it sad that some might read this through a financial lens and empathize with the supervisor, but at the same time I know many, like me, would be disgusted by the supervisor's lack of emotional intelligence. I draw hope from the idea that perhaps more people would see this situation less through a corporate lens but through a humanistic one.

And yet the kind of rule-mongering the supervisor exhibited is precisely the premise our education system's highly prescribed, content-bloated curriculums and high stakes standardized testing assessment regimes are built upon. Under these systems, accountability is simply code for assigning blame, and collaboration becomes nothing more than comply with your colleagues.

When policy becomes more important than people, we lose our way - we lose the plot.

1 comment:

  1. Those of us, and frankly that is really ALL OF US at one time or another, are left feeling criminal when we respond situationally to people. Policy is at best a guide. Rules are made to be ignored when sanity and humanity challenge them. I have felt the collective wrath of colleagues who want me to follow the steps, conform to the "consensus" built in staff rooms. I went down in flames professionally on one memorable occasion. People trump policy.


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