Empower Your Team: Seek Out and Eliminate Rules That Make No Sense


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In my Daily Dose video series, I explore the topics that chief customer officers must grapple with on a daily basis. Join me as I discuss what I’ve learned over the course of my 35-year career, so that you can more effectively do the work that needs to be done.

Today’s video is an excerpt from my online course, inspired by my book, Would You Do That To Your Mother? Click here to learn more about the course and enroll. 

The following is a lightly edited transcript of the video below.

Would you make your mom live by a rule that made no sense? Of course not. We never want customers to encounter crazy rules, but over time they seep into our processes. And as much as employees work to smooth things over, your customers know it; they feel it; they can tell an exhausted phone rep or account manager, especially as they make apologies for those rules.

Identify and Eliminate “Crazy” Rules

Do you have any rules that inhibit employees’ ability to serve and diminish their service? Rules that customers question, especially your best customers?

If you do, don’t fret. Every company has them, and for some reason, they tend to live long lives. What sets the Make-Mom-Proud companies apart is that they’re constantly on the lookout for them. These are often crazy things like: not honoring a cancellation if it is made within seven days of the final days of a contract, or charging a fee to your best customers to redeposit their miles for a canceled trip, or not opening an account for someone until a piece of paper has been delivered both electronically and by mail.

Why is it so hard for companies to spot crazy rules you might ask? Because we have a lot of them. It’s hard to skim them all at once. But it is our job to diligently lessen the impact of those rules that inhibit people’s ability to deliver value and to serve.

Replace Rules with Trust: A Case Study

These rules show up in every kind of business. To squash out more rules, social media technology company Hootsuite has even appointed a “czar of bad systems,” which they came up with after the approval process to give away the company tee-shirt cost them over $200 in time and resources. So they took an action to kill the crazy rules.

This old rule and process probably made sense, in their early days when they had to watch all their spending. But a thousand employees and greater riches later, it just didn’t make much sense for Hootsuite. They replaced that rule with trust.

Eliminate ‘crazy’ rules that frustrate customers and put the burden on your front-line employees to get exceptions! Improve #CX by replacing rules with trust. #MakeMomProud #CustExp Click To Tweet

Bad Rules Cost Companies

When these rules impact customers lives, your best customers get increasingly vocal as they run into them repeatedly. And the people they debate them with are your front line employees, who have to try hard at getting an exception or finding that work around, not the people who made the rules. They are the people who have to listen empathetically—and then listen and try their hand at heroics at getting an exception or rule wave or taking a bit of the customer pain away.

These rules also prompt customers to play costly “service roulette.” You’ve probably done it yourself, right? It’s where customers call back again and again until they reach someone who can swat away that rule or get the outcome they desire.

And here’s the kicker. These rules not only make customers and employees crazy, but they are estimated to cost companies billions of dollars a year: to cover resources to uphold them, managers to oversee them, and employees to deal with them, often in repeated sessions with customers.

Empower Your Team by Giving Permission to Speak Up

You have an opportunity to make it easier on employees to deliver value to customers. Perhaps you might follow the lead of Commerce Bank—now TD Bank— that lifted up the spirits of all of their employees by simply asking them: “What’s getting in your way. What stupid rules can we kill?”

Everyone there was then given permission with the fear to identify rules that didn’t make sense anymore, things that got in the way of customers receiving value, or employees delivering it. Leaders then work to squash those rules that they could. And the company celebrated folks who identified them and they heralded them as heroes.

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Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Hi Jeanne: I agree that taking a critical look at rules, policies, and processes and procedures can help reduce waste, and at the same time, make employees and customers happier. One important side benefit of formalizing this is that it makes it incumbent on managers to not only explain, but justify why something is done. And saying “because that’s our policy,” or “that’s the way we’ve always done it” should be out of bounds.

    The Washington Post greatly simplified their process for customers reporting undelivered or damaged papers. Now, if you don’t think you got your paper, call a single phone number unattended by a human, and software simply extends your subscription by one day. No muss, no fuss. I trust that, on balance, the cost savings for the newspaper, and the reduced hassle for customers has more than paid for itself.

    To those who believe they’re in the what’s-sensible-for-business-policy cognoscenti (myself included), it’s fairly easy to throw pejorative words into the mix by calling out rules we deem irrelevant as ‘senseless’, ‘crazy,’ ‘stupid,’ or ‘bad’ – but I’d caution against that. Many rules and policies that have outlived their usefulness made sense or worked effectively at the time they were adopted. Approaching the analysis with less-biased terms might improve the outcome you are advocating.

  2. Andrew, This action is so critical to every business. The proliferation of rules in our businesses build up inadvertently and over time they can paralyze agility, people’s ability to act, reduce spirit and tick off customers.

    I love for example that Hootsuite established a “Czar of bad systems. This came about after they found that it cost the company over $200 in process and people time to approve someone’s request to send a $20 free t-shirt to a customer. This stuff seeps in!!

    Without being diligent about recognizing that the seeping is happening (usually with well-intentions)….our companies will continue to be stuck in the goo.



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