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Friday, June 9, 2017

Flying the Unfriendly Skies - Flight #3411 - A Solution

It has been months since Dr. David Dao was physically assaulted to leave United Flight #3411.   I wonder what happened internally at United since April 9.

I tried to write about this when it first occurred.  Those blogs didn’t seem to add to the conversation.  My rant wasn’t about the employees, because they were following policy and not trained in alternatives.  And because the employees were following United’s policy my rant was with the executive leadership team who created the policies. 

Specifically, there was a rant about CEO Oscar Munoz’s response to customers.  Being a United loyalty member, I received his email explaining the situation. It sounded more, “Oops, we got caught.  We have a poor unfriendly customer policy, and now we realize it.”  If there had been no video of the altercation, as three other customers peacefully left the flight, this poor policy would not have changed.   

That’s not helpful and adds to the negativity that currently circles the service industry.
The Gurus’ Solution

What I believe happened at United is there was a policy written on overbooked flights, but there were not practical procedures written to enforce it, or procedures that encouraged creativity what to do if no passengers took the highest incentive offered.

Short-Term - Train Employees on Creatively Solving an Overbooked Flight  

If the incentive went high enough, someone would have left the plane.  Alternatively, how could the United employees on the flight been rerouted, if truly no passengers would leave?   The classic Service Recovery solution is to simply ask the customer, “What do you want?” 

What misses so many times in Service Recovery situations, the employees are not put through “What If” scenarios.   United’s operation leaders should write several “What If” scenarios, with the company’s ideal response, and distribute them through their normal communication channels.  It doesn’t have to be a proper in class training, although ideal, but just communication is a huge help to employees unsure what to do.

Long-Term - Rewrite Policies with Employee Input

Rewrite your policy and procedures WITH the employees closest to the situation's input.  Policies tend to be written by the leadership team who rarely deal with customers.  Their considerations are more financial or quantitative driven, and not always practical when handling customers.  It is one thing to write a policy, it is something different to tell a customer to their face they are not getting what they want.   

The gate team is the subject matter expert.  They have seen it all, and have smart ideas how to solve it for next time.  Use their knowledge to create smart policies and procedures that are fiscally responsible and customer friendly.  It is absolutely possible to have both.

Final Thoughts

To develop strong policies and procedures is a good practice for any service industry.  Seriously, in my career, I have never seen an employee who didn’t desire to do the right thing by the customer or the company.   It always came down to lack of knowledge and lack of training for the “What if,” situations. 

It’s a relatively easy fix, and it saves your organization embarrassment and certainly a huge pay-out.

Do the right thing.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Are you a Bad Boss?

I was talking to a friend of mine, high up in an organization, about a new employee who was not performing.   The employee wasn’t a bad culture fit, but his qualifications on his resume didn’t seem to match his performance on the job.  True enough this happens.

To help this employee who was not delivering on time, my friend decided to put in place hard deadlines for her entire staff.   Her prior style was to give soft request and deadlines because she wanted her team to have autonomy and ownership.   My friend wrapped up our conversation with, “I don’t want to be that kind of boss,” inferring micromanaging.

Bad Boss - Not This Time
In this case, my exceptional leader friend wasn’t being a bad boss.

My response, “Giving employees deadlines is not being a bad boss.  Giving someone a deadline and then hovering over them until it is done because you don’t trust them is being a bad boss.  You are simply setting expectations, and that is helpful for everyone.”

Good Bosses and Happy Employees
As I teach leadership classes, what I see most often is managers do not know it’s a best practice, or are afraid, to set clear expectations.   The intention is good, to have individuals guide their work lives.   These good intention people want to treat their employees as the bright adults they are.   I get that.

But I would argue ambiguity is what is causes much unnecessary stress in the workplace. 

Happy employees, at any level, are ones given tasks with clear deadlines, which they check off when accomplished.  That is why so many people thrive on making lists and Franklin Covey makes a fortune!  

It also causes stress to the boss when they need to start disciplinary action.  They ask their HR professional, like me, “How did the employee not know what they were supposed to do?”  I can tell you why, most of the time is the employee was unclear about expectations.

The Gurus’ Solution
Employee autonomy is how an employee goes about doing the task.   Give them the tasks, the deadline, and then get the heck out of the way.

So help yourself and your employees, look at what you expect them to do and tell them in simple clear terms. 

  • “I expect you to meet with your partners every two weeks, and send a summary report afterwards to the project team within 24 hours.” 
  • “I expect you to have the timeline sketched out by Friday.  What obstacles do you see in making that happen?"
  • “I expect you to work effectively with Sam and I know you have had some bumps in your relationship.  Effectively to me means…”    

So there you have it.  If you find your employees are not performing to expectations, first look internally to see if you are setting clear expectations.   Put in writing those clear expectations, with deadlines, to make yours and your employees’ lives easier. 

If you need help developing your managers or supervisors, we invite you to learn more about our training class The Secret to Managing Excellence. Contact us at 407-495-0846 or  We'd love to hear from you!