Empowered to Think

August 19, 2014 9:55 am Published by

Nationally recognized and successful brands have often become so for good reason. The people who built them are often hailed as titans of industry whose success is rooted in legendary customer service, the willingness to take risks, or often both. Their brands become synonymous with quality, and customers come to take a level of quality – both in product and service- for granted. Most often, the reputations companies acquire, are well earned and we generally accept that their success is not accidental. Rather, success is most often the by product of the convergence of a good product, great service and hard work. Great companies however, are not immune to an occasional glitch in the system. After all, as the saying goes, even Paverotti had to clear his throat once in a while.
My youngest daughter spent six weeks this past summer as a counsellor in training at a children’s camp in the Muskokas. Even though the drive to pick her up is one we could comfortably navigate to and from in a day, my wife and I decided to treat ourselves and our oldest daughter to a nights stay in a nice hotel – the Rosseau Marriott. We arrived at the check in counter without a reservation, and were professionally and courteously greeted. After establishing the availability and price of rooms, (yes and too much) I ventured to inquire about whether or not they offered a CAA discount:
“Yes I believe we do” offered the gentleman behind the counter, “let me ask my manager”.
Great I thought. Nothing like a discount to help me feel mildly better about the nights sticker price. Until he emerged from his managerial consult to inform me: “Unfortunately we only offer the CAA discount on telephone reservations, not walk-ins”. While the discount policy did not make sense to me, the line forming behind me left me reluctant to make an issue of it. Until I asked, and was informed, that the discount would have amounted to $45. My quick mental calculation as to what a five minute phone call would prorate as an hourly wage left me no choice but to push the issue:
“So, I could use my cell phone, call Marriott central reservations, and save $45?” I asked.
“Yes, I guess so. Actually you’re welcome to use our phone” he replied, as he gestured to the Marriott courtesy phone sitting beside him on the counter.
And so it was, standing at the check in counter using the house phone as the check in clerk watched on, I called in my reservation and saved $45. (It is worth noting, that neither central reservations nor the front desk clerk, asked for my CAA number, or for that matter even cared whether or not I had one.) To his defence, the clerk appreciated the ridiculousness of the situation, but he clearly had not been empowered with the authority to invoke his own common sense and so helplessly went along with company policy- no matter how flawed. The hotel itself I should note, was beautifully presented and maintained. Every employee we encountered, was pleasant and appeared more than capable of making intelligent decisions, if only empowered to do so.

Companies need policies in order to build and maintain their brand. But policies ought to be in place to aid employees in making decisions – not to replace the need to think at all. While admittedly, The Marriott brand seems to have faired quite well to date without business advice from me, I cannot help but think that the company founder, J Willard Marriott, did not become successful on his own. Rather, he probably hired competent employees, empowered them to think, and leveraged off of their abilities. That, ought to be a companies dominant policy.

Thanks for reading,

Jeff Neumann

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