When speaking, holding workshops, teaching what I call “Always Be Closing”, one of the core principles I espouse often gets a few laughs and even an outright snicker from some members of the audience. It’s simple and, like most things from those of us who had someone in our life who imparted more than a few slices of sage wisdom, it’s direct and to the point.
“Don’t be stupid”.
How much easier do you want advice to be?
It does fly in the face of something my sainted Granny always reminded me of, and stressed when it came to dealing with those who presented more than a passing challenge to the concept of common sense and even a low level of basic intelligence.
“You should never call someone stupid, Edward. It’s impolite”.
Somewhere from the heavens, that wonderful Irish lady is watching and listening as I write this latest missive about the “drag” being placed on common sense by the leader of United Airlines. As smart as she was, I have to believe even she would intone, “WELL, perhaps there are exceptions”.
United CEO Oscar Munoz fired off an email to his employees Monday night 11 April 2017. He just had to know it was going to be made public. Didn’t he?
Like you, I was upset to see and hear about what happened last night aboard United Express Flight 3411 headed from Chicago to Louisville.
While the facts and circumstances are still evolving, especially with respect to why this customer defied Chicago Aviation Security Officers the way he did, to give you a clearer picture of what transpired, I’ve included below a recap from the preliminary reports filed by our employees.
As you will read, this situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help.
Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this. While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.
I do, however, believe there are lessons we can learn from this experience, and we are taking a close look at the circumstances surrounding this incident. Treating our customers and each other with respect and dignity is at the core of who we are, and we must always remember this no matter how challenging the situation.
Here we are, back unpacking another mix of common sense and not-so-shocking stupidity.
As CEO, Munoz finds himself in a difficult position. He must deal with the situation at hand while at the same time ensuring his employees don’t lose faith in their company, falter and cost the company more money. Remember, it’s always about the money and profit in these cases.
But as the plaque placed on the desk of then President Harry Truman read, “The Buck Stops Here”. Sadly, this is another simple statement many levels of corporate management just don’t or cannot seem to grasp.
YOU are the last line of defense. YOU set the tone for your company. YOU set the tone for employee productivity. And every move YOU make will be scrutinized and will impact the bottom line.
CEO Munoz, as I noted in a previous blog post here, failed in his initial statement. It’s one likely written by a member of the Communications staff for him, but you can’t blame that individual. As an employee, they are merely doing what they’re told. I know plenty of people in that very position who are overruled with what their training teaches them and what the boss demands they write and say. Which is why many of them quit and take simple jobs, such as llama herding or knitting humorous cummerbunds to keep their sanity.
Knowing full well this statement would go public, Munoz should have exhibited the level of leadership and responsibility he wants his employees to follow, while understanding the need to still remain humble and not seem to be an arrogant jerk. Which is exactly how he is being viewed by the majority of the PAYING CUSTOMER public at this time.
- As CEO, you hire communications and public relations people to trumpet your successes and clean up your messes. When something critical happens, shut up and let them do their job. They’re better at it than you are, and they’re supposed to bail you out in times of crisis.
- The first words out of your mouth, physically or textually, must be something along the lines of “I’m sorry”. “Mea Culpa”. “We screwed up”. Bow your head and take the heat. Remember where the buck stops.
- Thanks to social media, the world is watching every step you take, every vow you break, every claim you stake…and if I go any further I’ll have Sting’s lawyers sending me “cease and desist” letters. You get the idea.
- Put your CEO arrogance in your back pocket and become one of the worker bees for a few minutes. Understand how this impacts their jobs, their livelihoods, their families, and the image of themselves and the company they work for. Emerge from, or in some cases, leap from your ivory tower and put yourself in their shoes.
- Even if there is one, don’t use excuses as your basis for statements. Was this passenger belligerent and/or unruly? Perhaps. We’re only seeing a small portion of the altercation. But we are hearing the exact same story from witnesses. For that matter, how the Hell would YOU feel if you’ve paid your ticket, you’re tired of the usual airport boredom, and you want to get home? You’d be pissed off like anyone else. He’s the PAYING CUSTOMER, (see how that correlation to CUSTOMER SERVICE always sneaks in there?), and last time I checked under no circumstance should you be beating them up or making excuses for bloody lips.
End of the say, we circle right back to that beginning phrase.
“Don’t be stupid”.
My job is to remind people of phrases like that in both their personal and professional lives. Let me do my job, and in the process save yours and that of perhaps thousands of others who depend on the company and the CEO to do the right thing.
Every time. Without fail.