When people just do their job
Today I had planned to attend the civil wedding of my brother and his wife. Due to the global COVID pandemic my husband and I did not feel safe to fly back to Germany and as there will be a church wedding and a big celebration at a later date we decided for safety over in-person togetherness - a decision we still made with a heavy heart. But as 7-year expats we know how to get creative and identify opportunities to create togetherness in ways that are probably not top of mind for everyone, especially not of people who have not experienced what it means to live about 6,500km away from your family. Anyway, Zoom and similar services are your friends, especially during a global pandemic. We could have not done our jobs without them in the last couple of months, countless business - including mine - would have not survived. And bottom-lining this, I’d say some of the biggest (modern) cultural differences between the US and my home Germany lie in the use of digitalization, in the comfort with putting yourself out there (on camera) and concerns about data security.
Long story short, the registrar of the tiny town near Berlin my brother and his wife had just moved to from the capital said no to a Zoom video stream. Everything was set up. We got up at 4:15am to dial in, my dad on his way to a 3-week treatment after his recent hip surgery also not able to be there in person had downloaded the Zoom app and was ready to go, my brother’s best man was prepared to start the call. All disrupted by the registrar’s “No”.
I remember only a few moments in my life which were equally disappointing. Within a few seconds I went from a little tired but still super excited to furious. “What was she thinking?”: A young couple moving to a small town, paying their taxes there which in turn pay her job, a globalized world with a deadly virus on its own agenda that does not stop at borders and a family that is - as many others - scattered all over Germany and even the world due to job situations - probably all this a reality the registrar neither personally nor professionally ever needed to face.
It would have been so easy to make so many people happy today - with a yes instead of a no. It would have been so agreeable to see the humans behind the to-be-wedded clients - by putting their needs over her own concerns. It would have been so generous to deviate slightly from her own policy - by just hitting a button of a system the was all set up by the clients themselves.
“What was holing her back?” was the next question that came to my mind. Very often it’s our own fear, limiting beliefs and concerns of what could happen. A lack of trust for sure, not knowing the parties involved and how they would handle the data. Maybe fear of the unknown? Maybe jealousy of all others being happy while being full of concern herself? Most likely a mix of all that and more, nothing is one-dimensional.
Just imagine what would have been if this registrar in the small rural town would have been able to overcome all these limits. It’s why you should invest in your people. To make them see the humans behind their team members, colleagues and clients and create an experience that is good for all. People who are full of fear, concerns and mistrust will have a hard time to take a step back to see if policies or own behaviors need a little adaptation or even real innovation, especially in times of disruption. Ultimately, they will have a hard time to create a positive customer experience. In free-market economy where people have choices I would certainly not be a returning customer.
Later on we dialed into the backyard of the newly weds and heard that the ceremony the registrar provided was beautiful and touching. She did do a god job, no doubt. With just a little overcoming and reinvention she would have reached and blessed an even bigger community. A missed opportunity, for sure, a memorable day for my brother and sister-in-law still which makes me happy. Congrats, dears! We love you!
This week's module at my Executive Education Women's Leadership Program at Yale School of Management is about leading growth through experimentation. Today’s experience shows me once again that all innovation starts with a simple yes. What are you saying yes to?