It really does not matter whether you are a customer, a supplier, a debtor or a creditor. And we have all encountered it. Life is hard, things happen, and our path is a mix of regulations and exceptions to the rule. When we encounter something that displeases us, we talk, we converse, we complain.
We talk to this company that promised delivery yesterday but didn’t and we are told thanks for our feedback, stay on the line, your call is very important to us. An operator will eventually come on the line, will ask for all the information, we will give it, and then she will transfer us to someone else that will repeat the process.
We get exasperated, shout a little, promise ourselves never to purchase from this guy again, and ask to talk to the manager. He/She may or may not come on the line but, at some point, someone will surely say to us that what we want cannot be done because of “Company Policy”.
Now, what is this fantastic sentence and where does it come from? How is it that this golden ticket of words can override all logic and hope of compensation? Who came up with this fabulous idea that a company, managed by people we can never talk to, decides not to actually accommodate you as a customer/vendor/etc. but to create a roadblock with this excuse?
Well, let me tell you how it happened, and most importantly, where this is going
This “Company Policy” thing started with lawyers that determined Terms of Service to prevent shelling money on court settlements. On this, and with the prior acknowledgement of the purchaser, a Policy makes total sense. Otherwise, imagine going to the barber for a shave, and discuss that your beard extends through your neck, chest and pubes, and that you bought a beard shave so… get on with it.
How this wildcard became commonplace in company lingo is related to company growth, employee selection and employee training. At the beginning, the company was one guy with a clear idea. Say, a plumber. He knows what to do, how to do it, how much to charge, what credit terms he can offer, everything. Well… he doesn’t really know, but he kinda thinks this or that is just right.
Couple of years later, his choices increased the business and now hires a couple of helpers, a sales guy and an accountant. One day, the sales guy needs the commission because the new Barbie doll is a must for Xmas and accepts the discount and 30-day payment from this stubborn client. Back to the office with the order in hand, the owner, panicked, throws a fit and says, loud and for everyone to hear, “NO CREDIT EVER TO ANYONE!!”
From Threat to Policy to “Blind, Deaf, Dumb”. And the brain shuts down.
Was the credit the problem? No, not really, as long as the payment is guaranteed, that the materials may be in stock, that the CAPEX for the job is affordable, that the OPEX recovery is within financial margins… a bunch of considerations that the owner, along with analysis, could have done. But it came down to the Barbie doll and now the plumbing business offers no credit. To anyone. Ever. Company Policy.
The problem now is very evident for the owner. He hired a person with a brain. This day he arrives to the painful realization that this brain is just not reliable enough to perform the task. Perhaps he should now look more carefully into what other gaps in judgement may harm his company, and work to patch them up.
Give that company some time, and you will find they will develop all sorts of policies regarding things as silly as filling out 3 paper forms, gather 6 signatures so that the Purchasing can issue a PO for some fax paper. Company Policy.
Trust in the brain of the employee fades. You are hired to perform a task within the boundaries of, often, irrational and arbitrary policies and, if you make a mistake, someone else will come up with a new one to prevent it from happening again, without assessing the cause or even an alternate course of action that will benefit the company as a whole. It’s a “save my own ass” policy. A culture of fear. A paradigm of “No choice is better than the wrong choice”. Even when most management training courses clearly state that the wrong choice is normally better than no choice, because at least you learn what NOT to do.
This “Company Policy” monicker has gone out of control. You ask for the corner bar owner’s details and the server will not give them because of “Company Policy”. You cannot talk to marketing because of “Company Policy, they only respond to mails”, except that they don’t.
“Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will contact you if interested”So Many Companies it’s embarrasing.,,
The “Company Policy” thing has become so pervasive, it is now a hinderance to the most basic of communications. A huge toll on business development and economic progress. Just remember the last time you were told this or that could not happen because Company Policy was against it.
It has become the standard response for not thinking. The basis of non-decision and the defense against a potential tell-off from the irate mid-management cog. And this is very dangerous. And it is very dangerous for… you, actually.
Keep in mind that technology does not care one bit about policies. It just keeps improving every day. From robots to auto-email answer, from ad sales to ad platforms, from studies to analytics, from paper calendars to Alexa. You better wake up to the reality that automation keeps expanding to cover more and more tasks. And you do not have to believe me, just read news and analysis from “experts” such as:
The era of telemarketing scripts, customer service hotlines and counter attendance is coming to an end. The “Company Policy” is designed to provide an answer when a brain is not capable. And if a brain is not needed, that task can, AND WILL, be automated. Think about that the next time you feel the temptation to use it in any interaction, because you are actively working towards making your job redundant.
I hope you remember this the next time you place a food order on the app, request a taxi on the app, order fast food from the touch-screen, book your hotel stay on the web, set the auto-payment of your utility bill or click on the nice ad you see on your newspaper and social media pages. And think twice before absconding from brain activity to recite those very words that are designed, nowadays, to put you on the street. Reader beware…
Now, and as a consolation to you, worried individual, sometimes the policies are wrong. Often they are just harmful. Voicing this up the food chain can harm you career temporarily, but management will realize your brain is a functioning organ. Particularly if you manage to argue against a rule with proper reason and analysis. The alternative is that your job position will just disappear, and if that can’t happen today, maybe it will 5 years from now? 6? Rest assured, when it happens, your experience will be worth naught. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you went to a travel agent? Yes, that’s right.