Sorry I Can’t Help You, Mr. Customer – It’s Against the Rules!
It's sort of cliche' to complain about long lines at the U.S. Post Office , along with generally surly or disinterested employees.
My buddy John sent me an email about a recent experience where the postal employee WANTED to help, but was strangely concerned about what the boss might think. Location withheld to protect the helpful and the customer focused.
The email from my friend:
So there we were at the ______ Post Office yesterday. I needed to send a package by registered mail, which requires special tape to seal the box and stamps to show that there has been no tampering. I didn't know any of this and had closed the box with regular package tape, which can't be used.
Anyway, the guy at the desk was very helpful and pleasant (unusual for that place), but he kept looking over his shoulder as he removed my tape, redid the box with his special tape, changed out the label, etc etc.
Midway through he says “Sorry, my boss doesn't let us help customers like this. If he walks in I'll have to stop helping you and will only be able to give you general instructions. Just go along with it and we'll see what we can do. He then keeps looking over his shoulder and eventually goes into a monologue on how he used to be allowed to help customers but now there are too many rules and restrictions. Classic, eh?”
I'd hate to think the post office worker was being hampered by an overzealous approach to “standardized work.”
More likely, the post office worker is being hampered by traditional management where leaders try to control what people do and they're held to unreasonable metrics or metrics that just focus on productivity, such as the number of customers served per hour. The guy who was trying to help John was focused on customer satisfaction, but something in the culture and the management style was putting him at risk for getting in trouble for trying to be helpful.
The worker was more customer focused than management.
If a post office were using Lean principles, I'd hope that “standardized work” wouldn't be overly restrictive. A Lean setting should first focus on customer needs. Metrics would be balanced around quality (including customer satisfaction) AND cost (including productivity).
I'd like to think a Lean post office manager would see an employee helping a customer and they might jump in to help. Or at least that worker could signal that they were falling behind and could use help (if the line behind John were growing). Photo below is NOT from John's post office visit. :-)
Toyota assembly lines have an “andon cord” that workers can pull and they immediately get help from a supervisor. The post office could use that concept, as could hospitals, where workers who have fallen behind or who see a quality problem are often left to flounder on their own, without support.
What are your reactions to what John wrote or on my thoughts?