"Neil Smith's brilliant insights into removing these barriers and empowering employees to produce creative ideas are a must-read for managers everywhere."

- Bill George, Professor of Management Practice, Harvard Business School

Neil Smith, CEO of Promontory Growth and Innovation, helps Fortune 750 companies dramatically improve performance by increasing profitability.

Management Blockers

Bank safety deposit boxes can be opened only by using two separate keys: one kept by the bank, the other by the customer renting the safety deposit box. One bank I worked with found that its customers frequently lost their keys. When that happened, the bank charged the customers $10–which just covered its costs to drill the lock and issue a replacement key. Tom, a regional bank employee, had worked in the safety deposit box department for a number of years, and he thought much about the box rental process. Customers who need a safety deposit box for valuable items or important documents probably are not worried about the cost of a replacement key, he reasoned. The cost of replacing a key probably would not figure into the decision to rent a box. And why not make these keys look distinctive, since they are being used for a special purpose? Tom also made the point that having a fancy-looking key for something that was important to people would further justify charging more for a replacement. He wanted to raise the price for a replacement key to $100.

Tom’s manager, Joe, had long been against the idea and had shot it down whenever Tom raised it. Joe said he was afraid that raising the price significantly would be seen as gouging the customer.

I later found out that Joe did not believe it was a bad idea. He had believed that his boss, the division manager, would be against it.

Joe’s boss had already been driving home how important customer service was and how much the business should value customers and their views. Customers with safety deposit boxes were usually very wealthy and, thus, were among the very best clients. While Joe didn’t know how his boss would feel, he also didn’t want to risk finding out. He didn’t want to risk raising an idea that had even the slightest chance of getting shot down.

It is human nature to try to think through what superiors might think about an idea. Joe thought the idea might reflect poorly on him, and he was afraid that his boss would believe he hadn’t been listening to the customer service message. The message Tom and his peers got was “don’t scare the customer.”

What are the most common management blockers that you observe in your career?