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Abolish as many layers of approval as possible

I heard Jan Carlzon, the turnaround CEO of SAS Airlines and author of the classic book for creating a customer-centred turnaround, Moments of Truth, tell this story:

“I noticed a while back that the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong had won, for the second time running, a highly prestigious customer service award. The General Manager there was a friend of mine. So I called him up, congratulated him and asked him what his secret is.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe it’s because we give our frontline people the authority to say ‘yes’ to customers. But we don’t give them the authority to say ‘no’. If they feel they need to say ‘no’ to a customer request, they have to seek permission from their manager first.”

If you want to make a real difference to customers, look at your approvals and permissions process. The more decisions have to be referred for approval, the more in danger your organisation is because it’s not going to be fast enough to be competitive.

Reminds me of something I heard Tom Peters say and jotted down at the time:


“The definition of a middle manager is a human being whose power is defined by their ability not to sign things. No scrap of paper should sit on anyone’s desk today waiting for their perusal. That’s a sign of an organisation facing certain death.”

That’s not fair to middle managers, by the way. They are often the people who keep an organization going in the face of unrealistic demands from above and desperate requests from the frontline below for resources or changes of process to allow them to do their job better (requests which the middle manager is not empowered to give permission for). I’ll return to that issue – the critical role of middle and line managers – later in this blog.

This tip is a sample from a book I am putting together called
Take One A Day
365 Ways to
Get Closer
to Your Customer

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