By now most everyone is familiar with the United Airlines tragedy. Yes, it is a tragedy for it needlessly impacted many lives in a negative way, with more to come. At this moment, United is in extreme complexity (very uncomfortable) and they have yet to prove if this will turn into a positive growth experience (watch this TEDx Talk on Order vs. Complexity).
Due to the extreme coverage, there is no need to re-hash details, but there are several components regarding United and the public’s response that have provoked this visceral response from yours truly.
- I used to fly United. I flew them enough to be labeled a “1K” (100,000 miles) flyer and was loyal for a few reasons, mostly because they offered more flight options from Nebraska, my home state. But, their overall lack of compassion, empathy, and professionalism at the way they treat customers was too much to tolerate, so sans our United corporate card and a few reward flights, I rid myself of their services.
Now, let’s analyze a few things… since the performance of a team is a reflection of how the team is coached, one can accurately assume United treats their employees in a fashion consistent with how employees treat customers. They were a wreck and something like this recent event, though tragic, is not a surprise given their culture.
Take, for example, the comments from their CEO following the event, where he praised his employee’s willingness to stick to policy, to follow “procedures”. Really? What he should be doing is wondering what is so wrong culturally that United employees don’t do what is right as opposed to acting like robots. What is so poisonous that employees will tolerate abuse of a fellow human, in spite of the law.
I have no challenges with policies, for example I’m a fan of the policy keeping firearms and any sort of weapons out of the aircraft cabin and support physical force (when appropriate) in making sure that happens. To the defense of Oscar Munoz, he has since apologized. But, the fact it took him a day or two to figure out the treatment of any person in such a way is tragic, is a day too long.
- As for the public’s response, I am proud that most everyone also found the event horrific; however, there are still those (including some United employees) that fall back on and accept the fact that all United did was follow “policy”, or “airline law”. That reasoning is disgusting and shameful. What happened on that aircraft is not a question of what they legally could do, but what they should do. The “what they could do” justification has suppressed and allowed too much suffering in our society, and is analogous to accepting what the police in Montgomery, AL did to Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks as acceptable. Hey, all they did was follow the law…
The lessons are many, but the obvious is the degree to which leaders impact behavior and performance. Would those on your team do what is right or would they follow procedure? Have you measured the impact your managers are having on their teams to make sure you don’t have a cultural disaster? Is your team so stuck in order that they see the following of policy as always the right thing to do?
The motivation for my writing this is not political, it is not biblical, it is a reminder to be fully human. We all need to love more.
P.S. Our United corporate card was shredded last night.