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Exceptions in the Heart of Business

June 3, 2009

military family at Nashville airportThe Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) has barred non-fliers from accompanying fliers past security checkpoints ever since 9-11. The practice has de-personalized flying–no more hello/goodbye kisses at the gate for any of us anymore, and sometimes inexperienced children are left to wait alone without parental companionship.

Yesterday, for the first time I noticed a dozen military troupes waiting to board their commercial plane–accompanied by their families for last-minute hugs and kisses. I watched as one man came up to a soldier and said, “I’ve been where you are. Blessings on you. And blessings for you too, ma’am.” I said a prayer for those families I wouldn’t have thought to offer had I not seen the spouses and children. I wasn’t probably not the only one.

This military allowance may have been in force all along and I’m just not very observant, or it may have been a local Nashville thing.  And truthfully, I’ve viewed few organizations as more anal than the TSA, until now.  Regardless, to see this accommodation in practice was a reminder that institutions–government, business, nonprofit, or church–often show their heart through its exceptions.

Rules help erect and stabilize our structures. Policies control the workforce and the media.  Standards ensure consistency, brand identity, and even safety. But even if your product is inherently heart-full, it doesn’t mean your organization or reputation is (read some Jesus–he was big on this observation).

It’s our exceptions-to-the-rule that often demonstrate that the institution cares:

  • the disenfranchised we let in
  • the interest we reduce
  • the meaningful things we give away to people who can’t afford it
  • the people we try to intentionally heal
  • the size of the charitable budget

Sometimes the accommodations are part of the plan; sometimes they’re not.  But often, it’s how an organization handles its opportunities to bring value to people who are not in the mainstream–not the core customer–that defines it.  One thing you can count on:  if your organization truly has a heart for people, it will have that reputation–and vice versa.

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