Subsidiarity

Let’s say you purchase a defective product. You try to return it but there’s a hitch. There’s a temptation to call the company that made it. And complain. And ask for money back or a replacement. Some folks announce that “I’m going to call the President of the company and give him [or her] a piece of my mind.”  Sometimes it works.  And the decision is justified.  But if the President says “sorry” – you’re fresh out of options. 

When I have an issue with a company (or product or organization or whatever), I try to accomplish at the lowest possible level that which I want accomplished.  So when I have a problem, issue, complaint or rant — and I want something done — I start with the person who answers the phone.  It may be Nancy or John or Elmer or Bambi.  And I explain.  If they can’t help me, I say “may I speak to your supervisor please?”   And I go up the ladder.  Using this procedure, you get perhaps five bites of the apple instead of just one.  Recently an insurance question came up and it was resolved with the person who answered the phone. 

This methodology is called “subsidiarity.”  The premise is that a matter ought to be handled by the lowest authority capable of addressing the matter effectively.  This can serve with any kind of negotiation. It is a concept that has application in government as well.  Alexis de Tocqueville in his classic study Democracy in America spoke of subsidiarity in terms of “decentralization.”  Instead of constructing massive unwieldly federal programs, one allows local municipalities and citizens to deal with issues.  When you have a problem with your local grade school, do you go to the U.S. Department of Education or do you start with your child’s teacher? 

I think there is a lesson here. . . .    

Subsidiarity

When one purchases a defective product, there is usually a temptation to call the company that made it. And complain. And ask for money back or a replacement. Some folks announce that “I’m going to call the President of the company and give him [or her] a piece of my mind.”  Sometimes it works.  And the decision is justified.  But if the President says “sorry” – you’re fresh out of options. 

When I have an issue with a company (or product or organization or whatever), I try to accomplish at the lowest possible level that which I want accomplished.  If I start at the President of the company and he or she says “sorry kiddo,” there is no appellate court.  You’re fini.  S.O.L.  So when I have a problem, issue, complaint or rant — and I want something done — I start with the person who answers the phone.  It may be Debbie or John or Elmer or Bambi.  And I explain.  If they can’t help me, I say “may I speak to your supervisor please?”   And I go up the ladder.  Using this procedure, you get perhaps five bites of the apple instead of just one.  Recently an insurance question came up and it was resolved with the person who answered the phone. 

This methodology is called “subsidiarity.”  The premise is that a matter ought to be handled by the lowest authority capable of addressing the matter effectively.  It is a concept that has application in government as well.  Alexis de Tocqueville in his classic study Democracy in America spoke of subsidiarity in terms of “decentralization.”  Instead of constructing massive unwieldly federal programs, one allows local municipalities and citizens to deal with issues.  When you have a problem with your local grade school, do you go to the U.S. Department of Education or do you start with your child’s teacher? 

I think there is a lesson here. . . .    

So this guy. . . . .

Two guys are in an airplane flying at 35,000 feet. Suddenly there’s a loud “BANG.” The pilot comes on the intercom “Ladies and gentlemen, we have just lost one of our four engines. We have three other engines and it is no problem to fly.  But we’ll be about one hour late getting to our destination.”

A little while later – another loud “BANG.” Captain comes on “Folks, we have lost a second of our four engines. But this plane can fly on two. But we’re going to be about two hours late getting to our destination.”

A few minutes later, there is another huge “BANG.” The captain comes on the intercom and says “Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve never had this happen but we’ve lost a third of our four engines. This plane is designed to fly on one engine so we’re fine.  But we’re going to be about three hours late getting to our destination.”

So the one guy turns to the other and says “Man – if we lose that fourth engine, we’re going to be up here all day!”