Carmine Gallo, Virgin America’s public relations, once said that, “Virgin trusts its employees to do the right thing. Leaders must empower their staff to do what is right for the customer, even if they break policy from time to time (as long as it doesn’t endanger anyone, of course!).”
This freedom to make decisions – within safe boundaries – is what the company calls operating within a “judgment playing field.” Senior management specifically defines where employees are and aren’t allowed to deviate from established rules and processes – and then must give them the flexibility to experiment with new ways for serving customers.
Founder Richard Branson explained that once you hire the right people and give them the best training, let them use their imagination and creativity to solve problems. “Rather than providing rules or scripts, you should ask them to treat the customer as they themselves would like to be treated – which is surely the highest standard,” he said.
In an article with Real Business, Gallo told of a time when during a fog delay in San Francisco, one Virgin America in-flight team took it upon themselves to bring the first class drink cart out to the gate. Waiting passengers were offered complimentary cocktail service before they boarded the plane.
“Those team members received a call from Richard Branson himself, congratulating them for finding a creative solution and keeping their customers happy,” he said.
This approach has also been taken by Walmart staff – especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. CEO Lee Scott gave his senior staff a message to pass down through the organisation, all the way to store managers: “A lot of you are going to have to make decisions above your level. Make the best decision that you can with the information that’s available to you at the time, and, above all, do the right thing.”
This led to an assistant manager breaking into the store’s pharmacy to get drugs for a local nursing home and an hourly worker who used a forklift to break open a Walmart warehouse to get water for a local retirement home. Walmart’s emergency management director praised these actions, calling them “good examples of autonomy.”
Ultimately, empowerment provides a worker with intrinsic, or self-induced, rewards by allowing them to make decisions on their own and see the success that follows. Employees then associate their success with their own abilities, motivating them to continue to strive for higher levels of productivity in future tasks.
And let’s just face it, we’re suckers for great experiences.
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