Catch-22 in today's organization - you want people to follow the rules, but you want people thinking for themselves as well - with customers, other employees, etc.
But it's not easy. Let's say one of things you value is people having the autonomy to make quick decisions without seeking approval up the food chain. A dirty little secret in today's organizational world is a large percentage of employees don't want the responsibility that goes along with thinking for themselves. After all, if you think for yourself and you're wrong, there might be a coaching conversation coming your way, etc.
As a result, a lot of people just want to be told what to do. "High-Rules" if you will. Consider the following story that impacted a McDonald's assistant manager and her family when she took following rules and authority to an extreme - as told recently at Business Week:
"On a busy Friday evening in 2004, a man posing as a police officer called a McDonald's in Mt. Washington, KY and claimed to "have corporate" on the line. Identifying himself as "Officer Scott", he told Donna Jean Summers, the assistant manager, that a young cashier was suspected of stealing from a customer. The girl would be spared a night in jail, and it would be simpler for everyone, he said, if the employee was searched on the premises. Summers took the 18-year old who fit the description to the back office, and over the next 3 hours followed the man's increasingly troubled instructions. Officer Scott wasn't satisfied even after the girl was doing naked jumping jacks.
When Summers said she was needed out front to run the restaurant, the caller instructed her to ask her then-fiance, Walter Nix Jr., a burly 42-year old exterminator, to come by and watch over the employee. By the time the hoax was discovered, Nix had assaulted the employee under the caller's guidance. Nix got five years, the wedding was off and McDonald's settled with the employee for 1.1 Million."
The actions of all three of the people in question - the assistant manager, the fiancee and the employee - track what was learned in Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram's 1963 shock experiment involving willingness to follow authority to grim extremes (read more about that here). But I'm wondering if it doesn't have something to do with the people involved as well as the view of authority.
When people won't think for themselves in your organization, isn't that also a statement on them?
But isn't it also a statement about your company, or you as a leader? Have you conditioned them to always look for the authority-approved path? The "Ops Manual in the sky" that shows what to do in every circumstance?
Are your people looking for "the authority" to make every call? What's that cost your company every year?
You might not have naked jumping jacks at your company, but odds are you've got plenty of other hidden costs if you're conditioning your employees not to take risks.