Charity should begin at home, but should not stay there. ~ Philip Brooks
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POLICY AND PROCEDURE
I took an interesting call from a reader last week; Christine posed the question, “When does an issue, or situation, become a matter of principle and doing the right thing supersede policies and procedures?”
We’ve all encountered them, folks. Rules, policies, and procedures that make absolutely no sense, take time and, in many cases, don’t fit the situation we are trying to rectify. Employees recite corporate scripts. Governments recite bureaucratic policies. Everywhere we look, every transaction we make, and every service we use, comes with waivers or small print.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when a person’s word was as strong as any signed contract. A handshake was an unbreakable commitment. Sadly, litigation, policies, and procedures have replaced good will. Companies needed to design and enforce policies and procedures to protect themselves from unsavory folk that look to take advantage of good will. Governments needed to introduce written laws to ensure compliance to proper behavior.
Any good lawyer will tell you that, no matter the law, policy, or procedure, there will always be someone looking for a loophole to get around it. This creates cause for even more lawyers to try to create contracts, wording, and structure, to prevent abuse of loopholes. In short, there’s always a way to challenge…but you have to be willing to spend a lot of money on legal fees to take advantage of those loopholes. Therefore, when a policy or procedure doesn’t fit the anomaly of a personal situation, we accept it at face value. We may not like it. We’ll mumble under our breath and complain about it. But we don’t fight it.
This is where a good business person still has the ability to stand out above their competitors. They have the ability to recognize when a policy or procedure doesn’t fit the situation. They have the ability to let common sense override written policy to not only make the customer happy, but to ensure loyalty. They aren’t throwing away proper policy or procedure. They are simply making an exception to ensure fairness. So, where is that line? How do you know when to override? By putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Say a store has a policy that any clothing bought cannot be returned once it’s been worn. That policy makes sense to most of us. We’ve all heard the stories of someone buying a dress or a suit for a formal function, wearing it for that function and then returning it to the store because they’ll never wear it again. Clothing stores would have to swallow the costs, as they can’t resell it once it’s been worn. In order to protect themselves from losses, they had to come up with a standard store policy so as to deny these types of people from taking advantage of them.
Now, say I buy a piece of clothing from that store, wear it, and then after its first wash, one of the seams comes unravelled. I take it back to the store with my receipt. Immediately, I’m told there is nothing they can do for me, as I have already worn the garment. Here is where I think a little common sense should come in. I obviously didn’t know the garment was defective until I gave it a wash. I’m obviously NOT trying to take advantage of the store’s good will. I acted in good faith when making the purchase; therefore, shouldn’t the store consider overlooking their policy?
In one scenario, they enforce the policy and there is nothing I can do but complain to everyone about their defective product. In another scenario, they order me a replacement garment or offer to pay to have the garment repaired, making me a happy customer that is sure to return to them for future purchases and tell everyone what a great store they have. In my view, doing the right thing will benefit both of us.
Policy and procedure is a necessary need in today’s world. As consumers, we have to recognize that both government and business require them to function smoothly. But for those of us that must enforce policy and procedure, we need to exercise common sense from time to time… just because it’s the right thing to do.