There are no faceless corporations

If, like me, you read the Consumerist, you are greeted on a daily basis by stories of idiocy, incompetency, and outright evil done by “faceless corporations.” Home Depot did this, Target did that, Wal-Mart did this other thing. Oil companies, airlines, cable companies, retailers, you name it. The common thread is that a paying customer has a bad experience, and the person whose job it is to interface with that customer is unwilling or unable (due to corporate policy) to fix things. Often, the issue is escalated enough, common sense is eventually applied, and the customer is appeased (for now).

We hear this story almost daily, with different players in different roles. And yet there’s still this image that corporations are faceless entities.

I hate to break it to you, but corporations are just groups of people. Corporate policies are written by and enforced by people. Stockholders are people. Employees are people. Customers are people. Corporations are giant networks of individuals. True, they exist in a very complex arrangement, but they are individuals.

What the people in those corporations try to control is how easy it is for those individuals to act human. For example, to prevent theft, a loss-prevention specialist may create a policy that prevents employees from giving refunds without a supervisor present. While this may solve one problem, it introduces another, as you’ve eliminated the ability of your employee to exercise human judgment to improve a customer’s experience.

McDonald’s is my classic example of a corporation that really wants to become faceless. If there isn’t a button on the cash register for it, it doesn’t exist. They have intentionally removed the human element from the front line, perhaps because they believe they have streamlined their process enough that all a human can do is make it worse.

Of course, when you eliminate all need for human judgment, you can (only) hire people who have none.

And that is where the faceless corporation comes in.

You don’t have to work in a faceless corporation. You are your corporation. You are one of its employees, and for many of us, you are one of its shareholders. So don’t be a slave to a policy that nobody seems to know the origin of. Speak up, ask questions, try to inject your judgment into the work flow. You might be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

(It doesn’t take a genius to extend this to the next level … there are no faceless governments either.)


#1 Gina on 09.04.08 at 8:43 am

Nice post! It’s easy to hate the nameless corporation & forget the individuals behind the scenes.

#2 Paul Sullivan on 09.04.08 at 11:04 am

This reminds me about some training I received at previous employment that discussed how employees needed to be empowered to do they right thing.

It sounded great, but unfortunately the corporate culture didn’t truly believe it and they didn’t implement it. They are no longer in business.

#3 Peter Quirk on 09.05.08 at 4:20 pm

Great post Dave.

I like the way we’re actively involved these days in shaping our company’s policies using the social networking platform to flesh out the issues and agree on how to address them. I wonder if any of the companies you named involve their customer-facing employees in defining policies.

#4 Boycott Novell » Links 07/09/2008: BOSS GNU/Linux 3 is Out, 3.0 @ RC on 09.07.08 at 6:48 pm

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