That’s Our Policy

We all visit stores sometimes and ask what we think is a simple question yet receive back an unexpected answer. We often follow up with something like, “why is that?”

The worst of all possible answers to hear at this point in the conversation is, “That’s our policy”. That eye-roller barely wins out over the other infuriating phrase known to patrons around the world, “Sorry, there’s nothing I can do.”

Why We Make Policies

store-has-strict-return-policyBusiness owners make policies in hopes of catching 99% of the problems before they happen. That makes sense. When the boss says, “we start work at 9am” that’s a policy that intends to get everyone in the office about the same time so meetings, collaboration and production can ramp up.

If an employee says, “I have a doctors appointment tomorrow morning”, no human says, “well, our policy says work starts at 9, so get your appointment done and get in here at 9 anyway.” A more modern response is, “Ok, then plan on working late”, or something like that.

That’s how policies are meant to work. There is the big use, but we can use our brains to see when a policy should be altered slightly for the betterment of all involved.

The Problem

Businesses that don’t have much time to train employees or hire automatons are at risk for making stupid mistakes. I have had run ins with a lot of businesses and service people where I’ll ask them to clarify their position.

It’s rarely the front-line person’s fault, it usually stems from poor leadership. Only once was a manager able to explain to me the reasoning, and during the exchange the employee said, “I never knew that”. That’s my favorite because the manager instantly realized he should have explained it to the clerk rather than just tell him “it’s the policy”.

Bestway Grocery

This past weekend by friend had a bad experience at Bestway Grocery in Greensboro, NC.

That type of “it’s the policy” answer makes me want to punch employees in the face.

The last time I was told that my kid couldn’t use the bathroom in a store I told my then 3-year-old son that he could go pee in the dressing room… the employee suddenly decided the store policy had a little more wiggle room that she first thought.

Luckily for Bestway, Jeff is not as big a fan of brinksmanship as I was 15 years ago.

When Bestway finally responded, they almost handled it correctly.

There is some additional behind the scene stuff that doesn’t paint Bestway in a flattering light, but I’ll leave that out.

Even their public stance is a bit confusing to me, and maybe this is just me. If the restrooms are on a remote 2nd level mezzanine that is not easily accessible or intended for the public, why do they force their employees to risk using it? If it’s that bad, why haven’t they fixed the problem?

Why Exceptions Win

automatonAny automaton can blindly follow orders. Anyone can turn the crank on the machine, clock 8 hours and leave without accessing a single shred of their humanity.

What people value is someone who can think on their feet. Someone who can solve problems.

If Jeff had been the employees best friend, do you think he may have had a shot to get his young child to the bathroom? What if it was President Obama who had to go, same policy?

When you carve out space to show your human side, the part of your mind that is nimble and loving, you win. People are always attracted to others that put forward their absolute best.

When you treat me with the same amount of compassion as an ATM does, then I feel the same loyalty for you as I do for the ATM – none.

A Better Policy

I like the policies that make sense, like the social media policy at Ford Motor Company; “Use your common sense.” What if Betway Grocery changed their public restroom policy to “Use common sense”, would this whole incident have been avoided?

At the very least Bestway Grocery would not have a very influential, Greensboro based, Internet marketing expert Tweeting to his about 17K followers about how 2 employees couldn’t help a small child who had to go the bathroom.


  1. I’m a cynic. I think rules and policies are there to avoid thinking, to limit the options of employees. If you empower employees to make their own decisions, you need employees to be able to make good decisions. Employees able to make good decisions make more money and will get promoted fast (had to throw in the Peter principle on top of it)

    • “you need employees to be able to make good decisions.”

      and the problem with that is when they make bad decisions, someone has to clean up that mess, and 1) managers don’t want to do it and 2) most managers don’t know how to delegate or manage enough to make the original person clean up their own mess (even if that includes firing).

      No, it’s easier to have “follow the policy” policies, because it’s an easy excuse to point to that means someone doesn’t risk doing something bad/wrong/destructive.

      Target – I was checking out last week, and some nuts I got were marked down to $2.75 (which is why i picked them up). They rang up at the original $6.99 price. I said “whoa – they’re $2.75 marked down on the shelf”. “Oh, they are? OK – hang on” – she hit 4 keys on the register, typed in $2.75, and kept going. That was it. No “price check on aisle 7!” calls over the store speaker, no holding up the line behind me. Just a bit of trust, courtesy and respect.

  2. Comes down to hiring employees we’re willing to empower and granting managers the authority to make exceptions. No place is this more true than in our own world of content marketing.

  3. I believe this happens when your company policies are handed over in a piece of paper or electronic document, rather than explained by managers who understand and share the vision of the company.

  4. It really boils down to adaptability. When a business or company policy inhibit bold and daring new directions, the policy is not protecting anything and is prevent the business from progressing. Like Juan says, it’s better for these kinds of policies to be shared and explained by managers instead of existing as required reading for trainees.

  5. “That’s Our Policy” is corporate speak for “Why yes, we do have a Legal Department” ;)

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