Just tell the truth . . .

“You never find yourself until you face the truth”  -Pearl Bailey

Recently I was flying to Sao Paolo, Brazil from London via Paris on Air France.  The trip from Heathrow to Charles de Gaulle was on time and uneventful and I arrived at the gate in Terminal 2F about 45 minutes before the Sao Paolo flight was scheduled to depart. 

 The big notice board above Gate 49 said the flight was on time and we would be boarding 20 minutes prior.  Well…  20 minutes came and went, then another 20 minutes and no boarding activity.  Then an announcement about a routine check and it shouldn’t be much longer.  Any “road warriors” see a pattern here?

To make a long story short we left Paris 2 ½ hours late.  The gate agents kept up the story of a minor maintenance issue and when we were on the plane, still waiting, the pilot kept saying he was waiting for the paperwork to be signed off.  Having been a frequent flier for over 35 years I have a sixth sense about these things and sure enough in the newspaper was an article about a planned slowdown by workers at Charles de Gaulle airport for the next several months.

A brand is a very powerful thing that not only brings customer loyalty but can add to themarket value of a company.  Just look at the brand value of Apple. It’s no wonder most airline stocks are a poor value, and not just because of the poor fundamentals of the industry.  Over the years the leaders of most airlines have significantly damaged their brands by a policy of not telling the truth, and not only about delays and cancellations.

Do airline executives think the general public is stupid and can’t handle the truth?  Or are they so embarrassed by how poorly they manage their people and the basics of their business that the truth would be too much to bear?  Gordon Bethune and his team turned around Continental Airlines in the mid-90s by straight talk, telling the truth and doing something positive with processes, employees and customers.

What if airlines told the truth?  I would like to hear the following:

“I am sorry, but over the years we have built an adversarial relationship with our unionized employees and they have decided to hit back at the company with a work slowdown.”

“I am so sorry, but we have a very poor process for supplying our planes with meals and your plane was delayed 40 minutes because we messed up the schedule and didn’t get the right number of meals to the plane on time.”

Or how about this truth:

“I’m sorry but we haven’t trained our baggage handlers very well due to cost cutbacks and one of our employees damaged the cargo door and it took an hour to get the door opened to get your luggage out of the plane.  That’s why you had to stand around in baggage claim for over an hour.”

Knowing human nature, if airlines told the truth the embarrassment to the executives, managers and staff would be so great that personal pride coupled with positive peer pressure would begin to surface and everyone would start being more accountable, holding each other accountable and processes and service would improve.

What if this was the standard response when things go wrong. “I made a mistake and here’s what I am doing to correct the situation so it won’t happen again”; instead of the current blame game and not telling the truth?

By the way, how do you respond when someone tells the truth in an accountable manner?  Again human nature tends to understand, forgive and set positive expectations for improvement.  But airlines aren’t talking accountability.  Is anyone look forward to an airline business trip or family holiday flight with the positive expectation that the service and performance will be better this time? Not likely.  Now days passengers tend to approach airline travel as combat.  How’s that for a brand image?

The truth is a double-edged sword and cuts twice.  The first cut hurts and the second cut sets you free.

Try the truth for a change and see the benefits.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

E | john@johnrchildress.com      T | +44 207 584 3774      M | +44 7833 493 999

About johnrchildress

John Childress is currently Visiting Professor in Strategy and Culture at IE Business School in Madrid and a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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