I was grabbing lunch in Bismarck, ND, at one of those large chains that has touch-screen ordering kiosks. When I had completed and paid for my order, the system offered me three options – no receipt, a paper receipt or an electronic receipt. I chose paper since I would need it for reimbursement. But then nothing happened. No receipt emerged from the kiosk and there was no nearby printer. I asked the person behind the counter and got an, “I don’t know what to tell you,” look. She went in the back to ask the manager. He came out, asked for my name, and said he would print one out.

A few minutes later, he emerged with the receipt and said he really didn’t know why the paper option was there because corporate had not provided a printer. But since he had no control over the software, he had no way of changing the screen. I suggested he tape a little note on the kiosk, indicating no paper receipts were available. He said, “I can’t do that. We’ve been expressly forbidden from posting any signs that are not authorized by corporate.” He apologized for inconvenience and we parted ways.

So let’s look at this from three angles – 1) Time – Elapsed time for the manager, not to mention me, was about ten minutes. If the manager is earning $50,000 per year and working 50 hours per week, the company spent about $3.33 having him print out a receipt, not to mention the customer inconvenience. 2) Control – If corporate is really that fearful that managers will act irresponsibly when it comes to signage, maybe they should spend more time coaching managers on how to make reasoned decisions. 3) Resources – Surely this glitch is happening elsewhere. Why not fix it? I got the impression that it was not a new problem. “We are a tiny market,” the manager had said, “so nobody really pays attention to us.” But corporate paid enough attention to lay the law down about signage.

Could this kind of clumsiness be happening in your organization? Yes. Chances are it’s happening right now. But the solution is not more rules and supervision, it is coaching managers to make reasoned decisions and trusting them to do so.

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