Our local grocery store is running a week of daily specials and I went to purchase my bargain-priced butter — only they were sold out. I asked if they were offering rainchecks and the answer was “we stopped giving them out at 5:00.” This arbitrary decision didn’t sit well with me, so I asked why. The clerk said: “That’s what management told us to say if customers asked.”

What?! I wonder how the clerk felt as he parroted back this ridiculous line.

The situation made me think of the Harvard Business Review article that I quote often in my supervision sessions. Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones surveyed employees to determine what characteristics made up the “best workplace on Earth.” One of five answers: “Stupid rules don’t exist.”

Employees don’t want to deliver BS excuses to customers and see them infuriated because the policies don’t make sense. They want to be the “helpful smile in every aisle” as they allegedly were hired to be.

Don’t put your staff in the position of being the bad guy. If you determine that an undesirable policy is absolutely necessary, communicate it widely to help set customer expectations, make it universal, and have someone with authority available to enforce it. Throwing in an apology, regret, or an ounce of compassion wouldn’t hurt either.

Stupid rules are just that — stupid — and cost more in ill-will for everyone than they save.

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