“My Hands Are Tied”

I’m sorry sir, my hands are tied.”

These were the appalling words I heard twice in the last week – one from a large mobile phone network, and one from a health insurance carrier. Both were from customer service reps that were clearly un-empowered, bitter, and really didn’t care much about helping me (so much for customer service). They were there to follow the rules, comply with policy, and do what they were told. It didn’t matter at all if their conclusion was illogical, angered a loyal customer, or cost their own company money. As long as they followed procedure everything would be okay.

How many times have you experienced the same thing? People blindly following the rules while their brains remain idle. Even those that were hired for their intelligence and judgment can quickly learn to check these assets at the door when their use is generally discouraged in a company’s bureaucratic culture.

The funny thing about this concept is that it contains two gigantic lies:

1. “My hands are tied” – Your hands are never tied. If someone you really cared about was on the other end of the phone, you’d figure out how to get things done. And outdated policies need to be challenged. What if Rosa Parks decided her “hands were tied?” Positive change happens in the world when someone has the courage to the right thing instead of the easy thing.

2. “If I follow the rules, everything will be fine” – Doing what you know is the wrong thing for your customers in the name of procedure is the beginning of the end. In this hyper-competitive economy, customers have no shortage of alternative choices and even less loyalty. A steady drip of disregard for your customers is an early indicator that your company and your job are likely in store for a world of hurt.

Business (and life) never has a shortage of challenges. We bump into brick walls all the time, and the easy thing to do is give up. Especially when you have the excuse of policy, procedure, or precedent. But those that reach their highest potential refuse to back off when they’re faced with an obstacle that interferes with their values, purpose, or mission.

Instead…they get creative. They explore new ways to solve the challenge. They let their curiosity run free and their imagination soar. They challenge the status quo, and have the courage to do the never-been-done-before. These are the people that delight their customers, get ahead in the world, and make a difference.

This week… realize that you always have a choice. Unless you are incarcerated, there is no such thing as your “hands being tied.” Break free from those imaginary shackles, and let your higher thinking guide the day. You’ll be happier. You’re company will be happier. And your jazz musician blogger customer from Detroit, Michigan will most definitely be happier too.