Kathleen and I were in Honolulu where I was speaking at a international leadership event for the Salvation Army. If you know Kathleen, you know she can be rather direct sometimes. One afternoon we decided to take a break and go sit out by our hotel pool. It was hot, and when we got there, we noticed there were no umbrellas – except one. But it was closed. Kathleen went over to ask the pool manager if we could use it, and here’s the exchange:
Kathleen: There’s no shade out here. Can we use that umbrella?
Pool Manager: I’m sorry ma’am. The umbrella is in the table section and is there for bar patrons.
Kathleen: Yes, but the bar is closed, and nobody is there. So the umbrella isn’t being used. Can I move it?
Pool Manager: Sorry. It’s our policy to not move it.
Kathleen: I’m happy to move it myself.
Pool Manager: Sorry. Can’t do that. It’s our policy.
Kathleen: OK. So let me get this straight: The pool umbrella is sitting here not being used, while we’re over there baking in the sun. But your “policy” is to keep it here where nobody is sitting. So you’d rather keep it here shut, than actually let a customer who’s paying a lot of money at this hotel use it. That about right?
Pool Manager: Yes ma’am. That’s right. It’s our policy.
Kathleen: But you have to admit, that’s crazy, right?
Pool Manager: Yes it is. But it’s our policy.
Trust me, the conversation went downhill from there. My point is that your customers, media audience, or donors don’t care about your policy about anything. Policies are to help you do your job – they don’t help the customer. Only in extreme cases should you use a policy as a back stop when a situation with a customer or client gets out of control.
But remember – customers don’t care. Your “policy” about something is YOUR problem, not theirs.