Gyms are quite expensive these days. For some people the monthly cost exceeds their condo fees. My gym is no exception. That's why I expect a minimum level of service when I'm their customer. I've noticed a pattern in my gym. Employees feel unable to commit to any request, no matter how minor, without approval from the Director. Here's an example of what I mean.
My gym recently installed state of the art equipment and decided to move the stretching area to another floor. I've made mention to one of the managers that it would sure be nice to have a convenient place close by for a quick stretch. Last I heard, that idea was being taken to the Director for discussion. I gave in and decided to use the stretching room on the top floor.
The room is sparsely equipped. Some mats, free weights, two extra large stretching balls and one smaller one. But no sign of the medium-sized red ball that I used all the time when the stretching area was conveniently located near the exercise equipment. I asked one of the gym assistants if he could bring the ball up to the stretching area. He looked confused and then told me he couldn't do so without the approval of his manager. We're talking about a red ball here--a request that would not require any additional expenditure, yet this appeared to be beyond his span of control. Imagine my surprise, when he showed up with the ball in hand. He left the room mumbling something about how he might not have a job after this.
Unempowered employees are the new norm. If you can't trust someone to relocate a small piece of equipment to satisfy your customers, then why bother to even have people working the gym floor?
Right after this gym incident, I headed to the supermarket to grab a yogurt. It wasn't until I got to the front of the store that I realized I didn't have a spoon. Upon checking out, I asked the cashier for a spoon. Her reply, "Sorry, we don't have spoons at the register. You need to go across the store to the pizza department for a spoon." She then went on to inform me that this was a corporate decision. The intent was to send people to the pizza department so they would purchase a pie. Huh?
I can certainly understand why cashiers may not be trusted with knives, but spoons? I took the matter to the store manager who was more interested in the name of the cashier than he was in resolving the problem. My lips were sealed. (Of course they had to be, as I still didn't have a spoon!)
Micromanagement is a sign of mistrust. But what happens when this gets in the way of providing the highest levels of service to your customers? Something has to be done. Relationships are built on trust. If you have people working for you that you cannot trust, then you need to either work on building trust or you must terminate the relationship. Your customers deserve to be served by people who are empowered to fulfill a reasonable request. Failure to do so will result in fewer customers.
I wish I could tell you the tale of the bouncing ball had a happy ending. No surprise here. Upon return the next day to the stretching room the bouncing red ball was gone.
Roberta Chinsky Matuson is the President of Human Resource Solutions and author of the forthcoming book, Suddenly in Charge! Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around (Nicholas Brealey, January 2011). Visit Roberta's Blog on the Generations at Work  or her Linked-in Group Suddenly in Charge!  Sign up to receive a complimentary subscription to Roberta's monthly newsletter, HR Matters