In the old days, Federal Express (now FedEx) made an arresting promise: “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” Now they operate globally rather than just in the US, they can’t always make it overnight, but they still have the same ethos. And that ethos has been reinforced by stories of the heroic efforts employees have made to ensure the package got through as agreed.
I was recently talking to a former FedEx executive who shared a number of these stories. My favourite was the one about the employee who, charged with delivering a package to the top of a mountain, found the road impassable. His solution? To hire a helicopter. Helicopters are expensive machines to hire, and that delivery, taken alone, was eye-wateringly unprofitable. But his manager paid the bill, and the employee became a hero at the company, because the ethos he demonstrated fueled the company’s culture, and therefore its ability to meet the brand’s promise. And that is profitable.
If you want to make sure that delegated decisions are made in accordance with your overall ethos, you need to give people a very clear ‘strategic compass’. This will not be an abstract mission statement or a set of KPIs. Instead, like “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight”, it will be a powerful statement that is easy to understand, and that people feel is a safe guide to action, however bold that then needs to be.