A fish in a tree. How can that be?

March 16, 2009

I hope to be able to write on a more frequent basis. If for no other reason that to catch the transient ideas that pass through from time to time. Perhaps I will make use of them, or perhaps someone else will. But at least, it is my hope, that something may come of them in some form one day.

A recent occupation for me has been a detailed observation of how passionately both my peers and my clients try to manage human interaction as though they were manufacturing cars. Exchanging the complexities of people for processes, procedures and the like, which while well intentioned can actually undermine their intent.

Yesterday was a prime example. I was shopping at Brooks-Brothers and they had a special on dress pants. One pair was $118.99 or two pair were $199.98. Effectively, by buying two you could save 20%. As it turned out I wanted three pairs of pants; however, I wasn’t willing to pay $118.99 for the third pair. You can see where this was going, but sufficed to say the procedures at Brooks-Brothers dictate that the only circumstance where you can receive a pair for $99.99 is if you buy them two pair at a time. The lunacy of giving up the profit on the third pair of pants, which I did not buy, escapes me, but not them. They were following procedure.

In a similar story from a book I recently read, the author attempted to negotiate the price of a room at a hotel room in Manhattan. It was midnight, the hotel was not sold out and he would be gone by 6AM, so he offered the hotel $125 for the room (vs. the std rate of $250). The hotel clerk steadfastly refused to negotiate, because it was against procedure. Finally, the author escalated the matter to the hotel manager who “saw the light” and accepted the reasonable offer for a room that otherwise would have gone empty that night.

The irony that the procedures (adhering to pricing) violated the objectives (maximizing profit) in both cases is not uncommon. What I cannot reconcile is that so many times organizations and leaders fail to recognize that to attain our business objectives we have to provide a context for individuals to apply common sense and reason, not a process from which variation can be removed. I am sure we could all think of a million more examples…

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