We just had a new washer and dryer purchased at Lowe’s delivered and installed in our house. 30 min after the installers left, we turned on the dryer to find out the electronics were faulty. After a long conversation with a friendly local store manager, we found out that they could not just replace the faulty unit with a new working one. We would have to purchase a second dryer, have it delivered, and they would refund us for the first unit when they got it back to the store.

(To be totally transparent, we were told that we could return it to the store ourselves and then they would schedule the delivery of another unit. That is not possible for us because I am currently working with a Physical Therapist to fix a shoulder injury and should not lift that type of weight.)

During the conversation, the manager was really trying to help solve the problem, but her hands were tied by corporate policy. She understood the pain the customer was going through by receiving a bad unit and was trying to resolve it. She tried to provide great customer service but the organization she worked for stood in her way. Let me reiterate, the organization, Lowe’s, states that one of its four pillars is “customer engagement”, yet it was making it difficult for employees to help the customer.

I wonder if the people involved took a systematic look at the situation? Did they take into consideration some of the long term effects of this policy? Is this a situation where the group making the policy is not the one that feels the pain of the policy? In system thinking, this is called a “Shifting the burden” archetype.

In a “shifting the burden” archetype, a proposed solution is implemented without fully considering the consequences to everyone in the system. I wonder if the impact to the customer or the front line manager was evaluated or considered. It’s easy to make a decision if you are insulated from the full consequence of the decision.

To make it clear, I don’t think that Lowe’s is much different from most large organizations. This type of shifting the burden occurs within many organizations because the systems within the organization are designed to reward this type of behavior. Whenever an organization is split up into departments or silos internally and the departments are rewarded for local optimization, this type of behavior will exist. Most of the time the reward is a financial reward.

At the end of the day, we purchased a second dryer so we could get a working unit delivered. Ultimately, the burden was shifted to the customer, us. If you fail to analyze how the system created within your organization affects others, someone else will. Over the past 6 years, we have purchased 12 appliances, all from Lowes. Maybe we will look somewhere else next time.

Where have you seen a “shifting the burden” system? How can the system be designed better?

Photo by Blake Wisz on Unsplash