As American Airlines tends to do, it left stranded passengers without useful information about the status of the flight.
The passengers just had to sit there and wait.
The Twittersphere was humming and passengers were in rebellion mode. This can’t be a good for the brand, especially for an airline that’s in bankruptcy.
Don B. wanted to fly from Los Angeles to Seattle on Christmas Eve, 2012. He was looking forward to spending the holidays with his family whom he hadn’t seen in some time.
In October he made reservations for himself and a friend using American Airlines‘ online reservation site.
The site was difficult to use, froze up and lost his data a number of times.
It took Don, a veteran web developer, five tries to successfully enter his information, but finally the reservations went through, and confirmation was sent to his email address.
The day before the flight Don tried to check in online, but he got an error message saying simply that he’d have to check in at the airport.
There was no indication of what the problem was. He thought nothing of it and went to the American Airlines counter to check in the next day.
The person at the counter reiterated that there was a problem with his reservations, but she couldn’t give him any information. He would have to call American Airlines central reservation desk and speak with them directly.
Since they had no direct phone line that he could use, he had to use his cell phone.
Only when he called did he find out the problem: both seats were in his friend’s name (remember the glitchy reservation web site?).
Don’s friend could travel in whichever of the two reserved seats she wished, but he would have to buy a new ticket if there was room on the plane (of course there was room – he had two tickets!)
Don asked to speak a supervisor. The supervisor’s opening salvo was a scolding to Don for the quality of the cell phone transmission. The call went downhill from there.
Don explained that the error was with American Airlines’ web site. They were obviously aware that he was the main passenger, since all travel information was addressed to him, and not to his friend with the two seats.
But the supervisor, unrelenting in her abrasiveness, said, no matter, the onus is on the customer to catch the error. He could still fly that night, however, he would have to buy a new ticket. Don said OK. But the price she quoted was far in excess of what he’d already paid.
He ended up passing on her offer and missed the Christmas family reunion.
There’s more. Don’s son, who had flown to Seattle for Christmas, decided to come to Los Angeles to visit Don. He got up at 4:00 a.m. to board the 6:30 a.m. Alaska Air flight that took him to San Francisco and would connect to his 9:30 a.m. American Airlines flight on to Los Angeles.
The flight boarded, taxied, but was forced to return to the terminal. The cause was a mystery to the passengers and the airline wasn’t telling.
The flight was delayed one hour, two hours, four hours…eight hours…the passengers waited for information.
Those who had access to smart phones were able to get some information online.
After nines hours the flight finally took off.
Airplanes are complicated things: stuff happens to them. Better delay than death. But once again delay was not the only issue. Equally important was how American Airlines handled it.
The flight wasn’t delayed because of weather, or war or extraterrestrial hanky panky: the flight was delayed as a result of an internal problem with American Airlines.
It would not have required magical thinking to expect the airline to offer passengers some comfort during the nine hours.
They recieved a single breakfast voucher immediately upon deplaning (had the passengers known they’d be stranded for so long they could have eaten their Fruit Loops one at a time and made them last the whole day).
Certainly it was evident early on to American Airlines that this wasn’t a one hour glitch, so did they consciously misrepresented the severity of the problem and the duration of the delay?
A strategic move perhaps: by parcelling out snippets of worthless information they were able to keep most of the passengers close to their own gate and not on other airlines.
My guess is that if the passengers had known right off the bat how long the delay was projected to be, there would have been a stampede to other airlines, and that would have been expensive for American Airlines.
Don and his friend subsequently wrote to fifteen different American Airlines executives to relate their story and that of his son. Interestingly, out of all those letters, the only reply came from Steve Lasner on behalf of American Airlines’s general counsel, Gary Kennedy.
Why would a company who valued its customers answer a first-contact customer service issue through their corporate attorney? The answer is, they wouldn’t. Only a company who saw customers as a threat would do that.
Mr. Lasner explained that American Airlines is not responsible for their web site: “when a you buy tickets online you’re acting as your own travel agent” and problems are the responsibility of the customer, not American Airlines.
This refrain was too familiar. (I find myself wondering what American Airlines would do if suddenly all customers booked by phone.)
And yet the communication from Mr. Lasner did not have to be the disaster it was. The only thing he needed to do for Don and his friend was to show that he – that American Airlines – cared. But clearly caring for customers is not an American Airlines priority.
Sadly, there may not be any relief in sight for customers with the upcoming American Airlines-US Airways merger. In a sense it’s an understandable pairing given that these two airlines seem to be vying for he same top spots in the Department of Transportation’s list of the most complained-about US-based airlines.
In 2012 American Airlines ranked third worst out of sixteen; US Airways ranked fourth, an improvement over their 2011 rank of second most-complained-about airline.
In a recent letter to customers, American Airlines CEO Thomas Horton raved about the great variety of travel options that would be available to passengers due to this merger, yet he managed to say not a word about improved customer service. This is not reassuring to American Airlines regulars.
Contrast that to Southwest Airlines who regularly ranks as America’s least complained about airline. They herd you, they box you, and finally funnel you down a chute to scramble for seats, and somehow it’s OK, because you get the feeling that Southwest likes you. Now that’s brand management.
I suspect that American Airlines will punish the reservations supervisor. It’s typical for organizations like American Airlines that eschew responsibility for the culture they created and harbor to blame minor functionaries for manifesting that culture.
In 1982 the Kings finally made it to the playoffs. This was not particularly momentous since the Kings had made it to the playoffs the four preceding years, just to be eliminated in the first round. In spite of that, the Kings were my team and I loved them. Yet these days I often felt like a jilted lover as they regularly botched easy shots and lost games to lower ranked teams.
They hadn’t always been this way. In the ’70s they held their own, and they even had a decent enough 80-81 season. But then in ’81-’82 they took a nose dive. Their total goals were well below the NHL average and when it came to preventing goals, it sometimes looked as though they were playing for the other team.
This was third game of the first round 1982 playoffs: Edmonton Oilers led, by the greatest of the greats, Wayne Gretsky, against the Kings. In light of the Kings recent record, it was understandable that the Oilers, and just about everyone else, expected an easy win for the Oilers.
The game went as expected; the score at the end of the second period was Oilers – 5, Kings – 0. Before the Zamboni had finished half the ice, the stands were half empty. Clearly there wasn’t much interest in witnessing the final humiliation.
Sometime later Wayne Gretsky acknowledged that in the Oilers locker room that night after the second period they made fun of the Kings. Not for a single instant did they doubt that they knew exactly how the Kings would play the final period or that the game would end in an Oilers’ victory.
Let me back up here and say something about the Kings’ strategy. The Kings had been successful in the ’70s using a conservative defensive strategy, based on preventing opponent goals in low scoring games. As people tend to do, they held tight to their winning model never questioning it as time went on.
The beginning to the ’80s saw a shift in the game. The times were changing, as they inevitable do, but the Kings didn’t notice. The game turned fast and offensive, and the Kings seemed unable to adapt. That night in April, 1982 the Kings were again working their obsolete strategy, and it was bringing them ruin.
Back in their locker room, the Oilers were cocky and laughing, and vowing to stick to their strategy. They were ahead five goals, an impossible number to make up, especially by the Kings. Believing they had nothing to lose they decided to continue playing fast and risky, concentrating on racking up as many goals as possible, rather than preventing the Kings from scoring.
In the Kings’ locker room, desperation opened the way to insight: they would finally change their thinking and their strategy. Banking on the notion that the Oilers, certain of their win, would continue with their strategy of favoring goals over blocking , the Kings decided that in the next period they would concentrate on scoring, but they would do it in a focused, methodical way, making each move count.
In the third period the Kings came back and scored and scored again until with a little over three minutes to go in the game the score was 5-4 Oilers. The Oilers never saw it coming. Then the unthinkable happened: thirty seconds before the end of the third period the Kings made the final goal of the period tying the score at 5-5, sending the game into overtime.
Another intermission. No one left the stands. Then history was made. Two minutes and 35 seconds into overtime the Kings scored. The game was won in what has been call the single greatest moment in Stanley Cup history.
This game has been analyzed many times from many different perspectives.
For me the most interesting perspective has to do with the thinKing that went behind this game, the thinking of the Kings and of the Oilers. The Kings were so mired in their beliefs about the strategy that had brought them victory in the 70s, that even in the light of their spectacular under-performance in the 80s, they never questioned it, not until that night in 1982.
The Oilers, giddy from their success that night, never asked themselves if there was something more they should be thinking about or if there was something they weren’t seeing. They assumed that the end of the game would be like the beginning, but it was not. Their taken-for-granted thinking cost them the game.
Both teams were so betrayed by their successful strategy that they didn’t bother to question the thinking or assumptions behind it. Fortunately for the Kings, in the kind of breathtaking inspiration that comes out of desperation they did break through and won the game.
Besides the Oilers, the losers were Jerry Buss, who assumed the Kings’ loss and went home and those spectators who decided en masse that there was nothing more to be seen and left before the dazzling third period.
If you have any questions about critical and strategic thinking please send me a note from our contact page or email me at ADavid[at]theveritasgroup.com.
Every organization lives on two levels: the level of the things we see and that of things unseen.
The organizational life we see is made up of all of our daily involvements, including strategy, goods and services, customers, policies, performance management, visible parts of culture and much more.
This obvious life of the organization is where we put almost all of our attention, but for all the hoopla, it’s not where the real action is.
It’s exciting, dynamic, and bursting with possibilities. Creativity, innovation, commitment and empowerment all happen here. Real and lasting change, when it happens, happens here first.
To understand the secret life is to understand the organization. Yet, for all its mighty potential, it’s almost always neglected and even consciously avoided.
The Veritas Group enhances your organizations ability to utilize and leverage the vital power of this hidden level.
Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a focus group being held to test public acceptance of a proposed initiative for the California ballot. We weren’t told specifically what was being tested or what position the initiative would take, just that it had to do with health care reform and what part government should play. The facilitator was skilled at building a discussion without forwarding any particular point of view, so the conversation was lively and relatively unguarded.
As the conversation went from a general what’s-on-your-mind these days to health care, the participants began to tell their own health care stories. The surgeon’s wife told of how her husband retired because the pittance the health insurance companies paid him was barely enough to keep his office door open. The man whose wife had chronic serious health issues told of battling read more
There are two things that underlie everything that happens in an organization. They lie at the heart of every success, every failure, every innovation, sale, good idea, problem, and profit.
These two things are group dynamics and interpersonal skills. To the degree an organization has mastered these two elements it will be successful. To the degree it has not, it will fail.
Human dynamics underlie everything that happens in an organization. The degree to which leaders understand the human dynamics in their organization will determine their success or failure. read more
These are the familiar laments of those who have witnessed the seeming immutability of organizations. Have you ever wondered why it is so difficult to implement major non-technical organizational change, and nearly impossible to sustain it?
Organizational culture plays a pivotal role in change. While small organizational changes that fall within the pale of the existing culture can take hold (as long as things are perceived as improved and as long as nothing too fundamental changes), it is almost impossible to initiate substantial and sustainable change without a culture change to support it.
With intentional culture change, things in the organization DO change, and attempted changes that didn’t work in the past CAN work in the future. Planned culture change that focuses on the organization’s vision and mission can guide organizational change successfully towards a desired outcome. read more
I am sad today because the last space shuttle, Atlantis, made its final flight last week. When it lands in a few days, the time of the space shuttles will be over. It is true that the space shuttles are old and obsolete…some have said that the shuttles were obsolete before they flew.
Just after the Columbia disaster I was speaking with one of the astronauts who was in Houston helping with the investigation. We spoke on the phone as he took a break from combing the countryside for pieces. He told me that the astronauts felt they were risking their lives every time they flew and especially upon re-entry and landing. He didn’t think the shuttles were such a great idea from the start.
I know the shuttles were not the optimum space machines, but they symbolized something. Maybe they were the trailing end of the Kennedy spirit; we felt such exhilaration in the belief that all things were possible and that unbounded imagination was an asset. But we’re thirty years older now.
We are respectably all grown up. The lesson seems to be that youthful exuberance and optimism must give way to sober cynicism, and that the thirst for knowledge must be tempered by the grinding realities of budgets and politics, where vision might be just an encumbrance.
So my sadness goes beyond mourning the end of the beginning of the space age. Rather I mourn the loss of hope in the future and the confidence to know that, yes, we really can do whatever we set our minds to do. I mourn that our world today has become cynical and turned in on itself with shadowed, darting eyes. But most of all I mourn the loss of the infinite frontier, a universe without limit that says to us, come if you dare, and we respond, “You bet we dare.”
A collaborative results-producing culture requires two important capabilities: the ability for decision makers on all levels to work collaboratively, and the ability of leaders to lead and mentor subordinates effectively so that they produce results.
Powerful strategies and creative ideas result when a company’s culture fosters trust, communication and dedication. Managers uncover and seize opportunities, problem-solving time is shortened, and market-breaking products capture new customers.
A results producing culture makes it possible for the strategies generated by the leaders to reach down to employees who put them to work. In turn, employees send information and ideas upward so that managers can create new strategies.
The Veritas Group has developed an innovative process for transforming organizational cultures into powerful results-producing cultures.
Organizational sciences, not fads, inform our work.
According to a recent IBM study, CEOs see creativity as the greatest challenge affecting their organizations today. Yet, while understanding that creativity is crucial to the success of organizations today, they admit to being in the dark about how to promote its growth.
Why the mystery surrounding something that is so critical and of which we have such powerful examples in the last few decades.
The answer lies in the fact that creativity is not what we think it is: it is not a “thing” that can be manipulated. It is an emergent property. An emergent property can technically be defined as a characteristic that emerges within a system when the parts of the system operate in a certain way and in a certain relationship to each other. We can never affect an emergent property directly: the only thing we can do is work with the ways of operating that foster that property.
So what does this mean to creativity in organizations? Since creativity is an emergent property of the organization system, then only certain ways of being can result in its emergence, and those ways have everything to do with the culture.
Creativity emerges in a culture that rewards original thinking, calculated risk taking and speaking up. People in a creative organization would be expected to play devil’s advocate and openly offer their ideas, and they would be rewarded for doing so.
No idea would be scoffed at or rejected without examination. The culture would be one in which learning from mistakes rather than punishing them is rewarded, because fear of making a mistake kills creativity. And most importantly top leaders would demonstrate this by publicly owning and learning from their mistakes.
If a company does these things, it doesn’t have to think about creativity; creativity will simply happen, it will be the property that emerges from the culture. And, no, it isn’t easy, but it can be done with enough commitment from leaders.
We are veteran sleuths and masters of the “secret lives” of organizations. With our tool kit of systems-based methods we uncover and interpret the hidden causes beneath the most important, critical and persistent issues in your organization.
Whether it’s turnover, conflict, workplace lawsuits, creativity, accountability, or sagging profits, we design plans for implementing changes that stay changed.