It’s starting to look as though that’s exactly what they did. Three weeks ago on October 27 in the midst of a bitter labor dispute, intending to show the unions just who had the bigger stick, the airline locked out employees everywhere shutting down operations and stranding thousands of passengers all over the world. Unions and employees were left – as they say in Australia – flatfooted, and the famous Qantas kangaroo, was in disgrace.
The battle between the three involved unions – pilots, engineers and ground crews – and Qantas management is a classic one these days. Qantas wanted to outsource a good part of its operation to Asia, primarily Malaysia, in an effort to lower operations costs. The unions, of course, focusing on the loss of Australian jobs (and union power), found it unacceptable, and the fight was on.
Stranding passengers in order to punish Qantas employees was the shooting-themselves-in-the-foot part. The reload and shoot again part came three weeks later. Instead of making brief contrite apologies to the passengers who had been stranded, offering them an offset and moving on in the hope that they would eventually forget, what Qantas did next was straight out of Mad Men.
On November 29 Qantas, in an effort to mollify disgruntled passengers, launched a contest with prizes (really cheap prizes) asking them to describe their “dream luxury in-flight experience”.
Now this might have been a fine strategy in the past: the contest would have been announced in print or on radio and TV, responses would have arrived quietly at Qantas HQ, and any negative responses disposed of in private.
Instead, at a time when they were locked in a bitter labor dispute and on the heels of the most irksome treatment of passengers in all airline history, Qantas used Twitter to invite participation in the contest.
“Be creative”, the Qantas tweet encouraged.
Qantas was not prepared for just how much participation or creativity they got. The Tweets went viral: somewhere around 25,000 Tweets and reTweets flew in a twenty-four hour period. A huge percentage were negative, and they were right out there for everyone to see. Instead of mollifying disgruntled customers, it spilled the whole ugly mess in front of the world. Qantas’ pre-SMM strategy was a disaster. A couple of quotes from the Twittersphere captures the tone,
“Somewhere in Qantas HQ a middle-aged manager is yelling at a Gen Y social media ‘expert’ to make it stop,“
“Alan Joyce now seeking an injunction to ground Twitter due to #QantasLuxury fiasco“.
While Qantas must now hurriedly be trying to find out not only what went wrong, but more urgently, who’s to blame for the Twitter fiasco, what’s really going on is far deeper than a couple of bad PR decisions. What’s at issue and what isn’t being addressed is the thinking behind it all – on all sides.
What the world has been seeing from CEO, Alan Joyce, throughout this whole thing is a kind of divisive thinking that cannot ever bring lasting solutions, and he expresses it with the kind of arrogance that only monumental positional-thinking can produce.
But Alan Joyce is not the only one. For union managers Qantas’ off-shoring move, was not only a threat to Australian jobs, but also to their powerful positions in the airline industry.
The situation is now in the courts. According to Australian law, at this point all adversarial action by all parties must cease: neither the unions nor Qantas management may make a move against the other.
The outcome will be resolved through a judgment of the court. Both sides will likely abide by that judgment, but as in most cases of compromise or imposed solution, both sides will dwell primarily on what they had to give up in order to have a settlement rather than on what they gained.
Given the political and economic climate in Australia, the award for feeling the most-shafted will likely go to the unions. And, as in most such cases where the root thinking behind the problem has not been examined, trouble will surface again, and when it does one might hope that Qantas will remember what it felt like to shoot itself in the foot.
Qantas Fail Whale Image by @kellulz