Common sense. They sound like two easy enough words. Webster’s dictionary actually has a definition of common sense: “sound and practical understanding; well-balanced judgment.” Surely everyone in business would have enough common sense to have common sense. But do we?

I think of the leaders of Jet Blue Airlines. They had obtained a reputation for being a low-cost airline but one with very good customer service. Then came the ice storms last winter. Planeloads of passengers were kept on their planes for hours, some as long as 10 hours. The airline is still trying to work through all of the negative publicity they received.

As we look back, after the fact, we have to wonder, wasn’t there anyone of authority who had the common sense to say “regardless of our normal policies and procedures, we have to take some steps to get those people off of those planes?” Consider also that making that decision would not have put anyone at risk. In fact, the passengers would have more likely been safer in the terminal than on the planes. Making that decision was just the right thing to do.


What about us in our relatively small businesses? Do we make our decisions based on common sense and well-balanced judgment? Be honest, how often do you (and I) make decisions on prejudicial information, incomplete or incorrect information, or just “shoot from the hip”?

One of the most difficult tasks I feel any of us as small business people, and especially contractors, face is the fact that in this fast-paced world in which we operate every day, we are called upon to make many, many decisions. Some of those decisions are major, while many are very minor. Yet how many times do we have or take the time to stop, reflect, and really think over the consequences of our decision?

One thing that would help us all would be to allow the person in our organization who is the closest and most familiar with a situation to make the decision. This is not always easy for us to do. However, it will not only reduce greatly the number of decisions we have to make, but will, in my experience, result in better decisions being made.

Do you think that if the Jet Blue pilots had been allowed to make a decision and work out some type of arrangement with the airport personnel that the passengers would have been unloaded much sooner and everyone’s interests would have been better served? Allowing the employee on the frontline to make that decision will almost always work out to everyone’s benefit.


We recently had an experience with a company that emphasizes that point. I ordered my wife a Mother’s Day gift over the Internet. The gift was to include an “attractive plastic carrying case,” which was important given the number of pieces that were part of the gift. When it arrived, all of the pieces were there except the plastic carrying case was cracked in several places. We dreaded how much effort we were going to have to expend to get this corrected.

Nevertheless, I called the number given and was very surprised to be answered by a “live” person. I explained the situation and asked if we would need to send the whole gift back or just the plastic case. I was again shocked when the lady on the phone said, “Why don’t we just send you a new plastic case and save you the time, money, and effort of sending anything back?”

The company had given that customer service representative the authority to use common sense in deciding how to handle the situation. And wasn’t the decision she made absolutely the right decision? It saved me the time and effort of returning a plastic case which they were just going to throw away when they received it. I don’t know what that company’s actual policy is regarding returned items, but they were certainly wise in giving that frontline person who was dealing with the customer the authority to make a common sense decision.

While we all need to have policies and procedures, I believe one of the best policies we can have is to ask all of our employees to use common sense when making decisions. The closer that employee is to the customer and the situation, the better will be the results of that decision.

Publication date:05/28/2007