Back in the 20th century I worked retail for Franklin Quest (Now FranklinCovey) and I was given “frontline authority.” This meant I was enabled to call the shots with our customers. If a discount seemed appropriate I could give a discount. If a return seemed questionable the decision was mine to accepted or decline. I was trusted to call the shots.
My ability to discern the appropriate course of action on the “frontline” quickly grew with experience. My self confidence also grew.
At the time, this concept of frontline authority seemed to be a unique course of action. The corporate decision makers could have followed the example of other retailers and distributed a detailed handbook mandating that all customer service decisions follow a strict written policy. Functionally this could have been effective but it would have caused significant problems for our customers and employees. It would have been bad for business.
When an employee who should be making decisions is blocked from doing so, customers can feel it. It doesn’t take long before a request is made to speak with a “manager,” meaning someone the customer believes has the authority to make a decision rather than repeat policy.
Granting frontline decision making authority is essential to developing trust and strength in any organization. When individuals perceive that they have the ability to choose for themselves their world is expanded. When this perception is damaged or distorted their world shrinks and their work becomes frustrating.
Making decisions and experiencing the consequences of those decisions is critical to individual development. If individuals do not perceive themselves as appropriately in control of their work, the organization suffers. They can, over time, develop a sense of learned helplessness. Not that they are helpless but by perceiving themselves as helpless they act as if it was true. Those who refuse to accept the model of learned helplessness eventually leave the organization.
I’ve used my days at FranklinCovey as an example of an organization that successfully enabled a strong perception of control in its most basic employees. If doing so is critical to running a business, how much more is it to a marriage, raising children, or even developing friendships?