Big time service in a small town

Since moving to the mountains of North Carolina, we have encountered many “small-town” pleasures… being surrounded by caring neighbors, greatly reduced traffic-induced anxiety, and knowing both our mail carrier and UPS driver by name.

Before we even moved in, we happened to run into a local UPS guy who told us that Eric would be our driver.  Based on our businesses, we knew that UPS would be making lots of trips up and down “The Beast” (our neighbors unofficial name of our steep and curvy driveway).

And Eric has proven to be a reliable, pleasant, personable and considerate deliverer of goods. He is always smiling and ready to offer a friendly greeting or comment.  It’s been fun getting to know him, and we especially appreciated the over-and-above service he provided the other day.

First, a little context: while in Orlando recently, my laptop bag was stolen. And yes, my laptop was in it at the time. Upon returning home, I trucked off to the Apple store to get a replacement.  They didn’t have the exact configuration I wanted, so I had to order it and have it shipped to my house. I had already been without my main laptop for about a week, so what’s a few more days?

I knew I was going to have to sign for the box when the laptop was delivered, so I watched the tracking carefully to make sure either my wife or I would be home.  On the day it was to arrive, it said the earliest it would be delivered was 1 pm.  My wife and I had some errands to run, so we got in the car and headed down “The Beast” at about 10 am.  We would be back in plenty of time.

As we headed down the driveway, a very familiar brown truck made it’s way past our driveway and up the road. I wondered if it was Eric just as the truck started to slow down.  It stopped right in the middle of the road, and I knew what was happening.

Eric saw our car coming down the driveway, and because he knew we were going to have to sign for the package, he decided to stop and make sure we got it right then to avoid missing us on his way back through the neighborhood.

To me, that was amazing. 

He didn’t have to do that. He could have kept driving, knowing that he would have gotten back around to our house eventually and maybe someone would have been there to sign for the package, maybe not. In the grand scheme of things, what difference did it make to him?

Thankfully for me, it made at least a little difference to him, and his actions made a BIG difference to me.

And quite frankly, I don’t know if this scenario plays out the same way in a different municipality, if a different driver was on the route that day or if we hadn’t gotten to know Eric before this point. My guess is that it wouldn’t have.

So first and foremost, I am thankful to Eric and his efforts to make sure I got my new laptop in a timely manner.  Secondly, I think there is a business lesson to explore.

Not knowing a ton about the UPS culture, I would imagine that as an experienced driver, Eric has the freedom to make these kinds of decisions… to alter his route or delivery schedule to better serve his customers.  What’s another way to say “freedom to make decisions”?


Yes, I said it. And yes, I know that this was an over-used business cliche a number of years ago.  But here’s the thing… when it’s done right, it actually works.

I think empowerment has gotten a bad rap because of the lazy managers who let the process fail.  You can’t simply say to an employee, “you’re empowered” and expect them to all-of-a-sudden know what they are empowered to actually do.  It just doesn’t work that way.

But that’s what we did back in the day. We told people they were empowered and left it at that. We then scratched our heads when this great empowerment initiative didn’t work.

Once you say, “you’re empowered”, thats when the work actually STARTS!  Now you have to set parameters, provide guidance, seek out suggestions, give feedback, equip with resources, observe behaviors, rinse and repeat.

And maybe lazy is too harsh a word for those managers… maybe forgetful is more accurate?  How often do we forget what it’s like on the frontline, or to be a new employee?  How often do we forget that the things we know BY HEART are things that others may just be learning or may be struggling with?  How often do we forget that not everyone has had the same experiences that we have, which means they could be on a totally difference planet when it comes to appropriate empowerment.

Empowerment is like delegation… it takes a truckload (no UPS pun intended) of work upfront to make it work, but the results can be outstanding!

So whether UPS got empowerment right, or Eric just took it upon himself to help me out, the result was the same, and I am thankful.

Thanks for reading!

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2 thoughts on “Big time service in a small town

  1. “Lazy” – maybe… “Forgetful” – perhaps… How about distracted by daily tasks…? They are doing their job… it’s just, like most of us, they need a reminder to step outside of the daily responsibilities to stop, reflect and take inventory of how things are running. That’s where Matt Heller comes in. People follow him because they want to be better at their craft, and Matt provides them with anecdotes that guide the reflection process. Thanks Matt!

    • Thanks, WTL! Such kind words from the guy who taught me the finer points of dressing a trash can (which, to this day, I am still grateful!). I would certainly add distracted to that list, especially as managers are being asked to do more with less. Empowering a team of 10 is much different than empowering a team of 100! Ironically, that’s when you need it most… when you don’t have time to do it right!

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