Delegating authority to employees who lack the necessary knowledge and experience is risky. To do so without effective supervision and management oversight is just plain stupid.
A case study involving one of Australia’s most successful developers of prestige and luxury residential apartments will help put this into context. The Company offers modern sophisticated living in highly sought-after locations. However, buying into their new urban lifestyle could be a lonely existence if my experience as a visitor to one of their buildings is anything to go by.
It begins at 11 pm on a Wednesday night. I had accidently left a pair of glasses at a friend’s housewarming party and returned to collect them. She now lives in a swanky apartment in a brand-new building located in the Sydney suburb of Zetland. Apart from the concentration of high-rise apartment buildings, the first thing you’ll notice is the absence of street parking. Here they have adopted the ‘Clover Moore’ approach to street design. This means you stand a better chance of winning first division lotto than finding a park on the street. So, I drove to the boom gate of the underground car park and buzzed her apartment.
She knew I was coming and buzzed me in. As the boom gates opened, she yelled parking instructions through the intercom – ‘drive down the ramp and you’ll find the visitor parking bays against the left-hand wall’.
I did as I was told only to find myself in a sea of disabled parking. Why every single bay was marked as ‘Disabled Parking’ was a mystery. Perhaps this was a ploy aimed at the building contractors working to finish the building? Anyway, I discovered the disabled sign was accompanied by a numerical number except those against the left wall where I was told to park. They were also marked as ‘Disabled’ but instead of numbers these were marked with letters of the alphabet. Logic would suggest those with numbers were assigned to units while letters of the alphabet were for visitors. I sought the reassurance of a sign that read Visitor Parking but there was none. Nor was there anything in the form of conditions that applied to the car park.
It took less than 15 minutes to collect my glasses. When I returned, I found a large red ‘You are parked ILLEGALLY’ sign had been plastered on my passenger side window with super-adhesive glue. It said that my number plate had been noted and a $550 fine would most likely follow.
But in this situation the only illegal act was committed by the person who placed the sticker on my window. Not only was it unlawful to apply a sticker to my car, what was printed on the sticker was illegal as well. You see, only the government has the authority to issue 'fines' and anyone caught issuing fines or threatening to issue fines does so at their own peril because they can be prosecuted for misleading conduct and for acting unlawfully – and that applies to private car parks as well.
The letter of complaint I sent to the owners of the development was dismissed out of hand. I wrote a second time and they replied stating that ‘all visitor parking must be pre-arranged and approved by on-site management and residents must use their Portal System to do so’. The reply went on to say that ‘on-site security was contactable on an after-hours number in relation to short term stops. However, the pre-arranged and approved conditions still applied’.
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t even understand what that meant or what I was to do with that information. After all, I was just visiting a resident in the building for 15 minutes not moving in. I was left wondering was the author acting in isolation or was this actual Company Policy and was such conduct considered acceptable. Anyone in their right mind could predict that a process as complicated as this was sure to fail and one holding residents responsible was doomed from the start.
So, I wrote again; this time expressing disapproval at their response to date and asking when the illegal sticker posted on my window would be removed. The reply I received claimed that a notice in relation to visitor parking procedures was clearly displayed in each lift and that I would have seen it when I entered the lift to visit the resident in the building. It concluded with – ‘we can provide no further assistance with the matter and suggest you take this issue up with the resident you were visiting’.
You don’t need to be Einstein to figure out that you could only read the notice in the lift after you parked your car and that was too late. When I did in fact find the notice, it left me speechless. For what it was worth – the notice was addressed to Residents not Visitors and the procedure was not for short visits but for overnight stays.
Tempted as I was to write a fourth time, I realised it would be meaningless because the person I was communicating with would never get it. It’s easy for some employees to become so obsessed with upholding policy that they lose the ability to think logically and treat valued clients as combatants. Rather than consider how to help people to get it right, they focus their efforts on catching people out.