Artificial Intelligence :: How not to destroy your company culture

Artificial Intelligence :: How not to destroy your company culture

This article is about how artificial intelligence will affect company cultures. What happens when the hero in the organisation is no longer a senior person but a computer? What happens when your boss tells you that he trust the computer more than he trusts you? What happens when you get fired because your job can be better done by a computer?

Uncertainty, fear and opportunities surround artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence is not new. We just talk more about it and it is moving into areas where it directly affects more people’s lives. The driverless car is an example. They have the potential to be able to eliminate the majority of all accidents on the road. So now you can drink and drive without the risk of hurting anybody. We like that idea because it obviously helps us. We have known this kind of artificial intelligence from the aviation industry for decades, where planes predominantly rely on the judgement of the computers when flying. The development of artificial intelligence in planes has improved safely tremendously.

If today we had the same safety level as in 1970 a plane would crash every 15 minutes. This year till date only 363 people have been killed in 87 plane crashes. In 1970 2226 people were killed in 298 accidents. As you can see in the graph below the number of passengers has grown from 310 million in 1970 to nearly 4 billion in 2016.

 

So artificial intelligence is good. At least as long as it doesn’t take our jobs and offend our professional or emotional pride.

The fact is that many entry-level jobs are already being replaced by artificial intelligence. Law school graduates have troubles finding jobs at law firms because the work they used to do is done much better by computers. Hospitals are experimenting with having computer diagnosing patients instead of doctors and machines can already perform certain kinds of surgeries much better than we humans can.

Artificial intelligence is all good – or is it?

As it is easy to find the areas where artificial intelligence helps us making things easier, safer or quicker is slightly more difficult to see the negative side effects. An often – if we see them, we tend to downplay or even neglect them completely.

Deployment of artificial intelligence is like pressing toothpaste out of the tube. Once it is out you can’t get it back in. So I believe we have to carefully assess how far we are willing to go with the use of artificial intelligence. Just because we can go an extra step doesn’t mean we should necessarily do it.

I do certainly not neglect the positive effects of artificial intelligence when developed and used correctly, but below I will allow myself to be the devils advocate in assessing what artificial intelligence can do to a company culture if it gets out of hand.

Company culture and artificial intelligence

One of the general definitions of culture is “the way we do things around here”. A company culture is like any other culture. It is a collection of behaviours, values, norms and basic assumptions tied together with mutual trust and experience and a common view of the outside world, its opportunities and threats.

This very complex non-verbal inter-human interaction is crucial for us human beings. We are NOT rational creatures. We are emotional. We fall in love, we hurt other people in anger, we get jealous, we hate, we admire role models and heroes. We have a need for affiliation, we seek recognition and we define ourselves by how we are in relation to other people. These are basic human characteristics, which are not going to go away.

When we in Gugin facilitate a company cultural change we look into all these aspects plus a lot more. We look at what people dream of and what they fear.Â

More people have a fear of becoming redundant, a fear of being replaced by a computer. That fear leads to mistrust in the people around you, the management and the company itself.

If you don’t feel safe you change behaviour. and when you change behaviour you change the culture. And this is exactly what has been happening with some of our clients over the past couple of years.

The fear among the employees and middle managers is implicit but nevertheless very present because we can measure the change in behaviour. They are afraid of sharing knowledge. They are afraid of asking for help and this way reveal that they don’t know everything. That change in behaviour leads to decrease in quality, lower customer satisfaction, higher employee turnover and eventually lower profitability.

The artificial intelligence dilemma

The use of artificial intelligence creates a dilemma that all companies should be aware of and relate to.

If you don’t take advantage of the new technologies you will lose competitive advantage because some of your competitors will use the new technologies. They way they can produce and sell the same products or services cheaper in a better quality and delivered faster. So pretending the good old days won’t change is not a good strategy if you want to remain in business.

On the other side of the dilemma, you might lose the motivation of your most important asset – your employees ( and perhaps customers) if you deploy artificial intelligence and other automation technologies as fast and intensive as possible.

Last month we conducted a survey for an airport lounge, that has just implemented automatic boarding card scanners for its guests instead of being greeted by a human being from that particular airline. The airline implemented the automatic scanning of boarding cards to save money on having people sitting at the welcome desk.

We interviewed 600 passengers over 2 days. 78% of passengers would rather talk to a human being, and even wait a few minutes rather than scanning their boarding card themselves in order to get access to the lounge. It is because human interaction is fundamental to our well-being as human beings. As human interaction is becoming seldom in many places we value it even more. This is probably why 65% of the passengers we interviewed stated that the automated registration of them when entering the lounge will have a negative impact on their overall rating of the airline.
Previously we have seen similar figures when companies are trying to replace inbound call centres with automated solutions.

Deployment of artificial intelligence solutions is probably going to follow the same patterns.

Is Artificial Intelligence a threat or an opportunity for your corporate culture?

Book a thought-provoking Speech on Artificial Intelligence and Company Culture

What happens when the hero in the organisation is no longer a senior person but a computer? What happens when your boss tells you that he trust the computer more than he trusts you? What happens when you get fired because your job can be better done by a computer?

What can you do to use artificial intelligence wisely in your company?

We humans don’t like change – at least no when it concerns ourselves and it is not voluntarily

Based on our experience we suggest you do the following to prepare your organisation for the use of artificial intelligence:

•Make sure you have a company culture where everybody trust, feel, believe and experience that they are the most important asset to the company. When that is in place people are much more willing to change also in the transition towards wider use of artificial intelligence

•Try to make artificial intelligence initiatives be a bottom-up process. Not only do you get acceptance from the organisation you also get a lot of great ideas to how the culture can be preserved and developed while deploying new technologies. One of the law firms we have been working with did that and found out that the new graduates they hired could charge more money faster by using artificial intelligence. So they actually hire more new graduates than 5 years ago. They would never have reached that point if it was a process driven from the bottom up.

•Make a space where people can express their fears and concerns about the deployment of artificial intelligence. It has to be anonymous. People express concerns because the care, so take it seriously and address these concerns properly

•Make sure the transition process is very transparent and do make sure you maintain the highest level of integrity at all times. This is about trust. Integrity is the foundation for trust.

If you are interested in discussing this further please do get in touch here

 

5 reasons you will never become a Leader

5 reasons you will never become a Leader

A lot of people want to become a leader. This article is about why you most likely will fail to become a leader. The article is also about what you can do yourself to change that situation. But you will probably find it is much harder than you anticipated.

read more
Leadership Keynote Speaker by Dr Finn Majlergaard

Leadership Keynote Speaker by Dr Finn Majlergaard

Leadership keynote speaker, Dr Finn Majlergaard delivers thought-provoking global leadership speeches and workshops all over the world, based on 25 years of experience with 600+ companies. Anyone can copy your product but no one can copy your culture. Learn to become the best in leadership

read more
Can you do too much for your employees?

Can you do too much for your employees?

We raise the question because we did a large survey for a client last month that gave some surprising results – results that will require some further research – for sure, but we will disclose the conclusions with you in this article.

We have anonymised the name and industry of the client, but they have given us permission to that we can disclose the results and conclusions as long as they can’t be traced back to the company. We are grateful for that permission, because we discovered something we have never seen before.

Background

Over the past 7 years the company has invested a lot in a new state of the art head quarter and they took the advice we gave them 5 years ago to develop and implement a motivation and reward system, that was on one hand totally individual and on the other rewarded team effectiveness and corporate culture development. They wanted and want their employees to feel happy. They wanted to ease their employees life as much as possible. The employees can order ready to go dinner they can bring home after work, there are spa facilities, there is an army of coaches ready to help with almost everything the employees want to talk about. The list of services is long.

The company made this investment because it wanted to attract and retain the best people in a very competitive market. And they have done very well. Maybe too well.

But people have started to leave and even the exit interviews don’t give a clear picture of the reason, so the company wanted us to assess their corporate culture again so see if we could identify the reason for why people were leaving. We did a cultural due diligence and compared it with the first one we made. No major differences were found.

Then we started to look for patterns and found that most people leaving were in a relationsship or married. All sorts of ideas came into our minds, so we decided to develop a survey we have never done before. We wanted the spouses of the employees to take a survey where we would ask about the work load, flexibility level, opportunities and benefits their spouses( the employees of the company) had. We also gave the opportunity to give free comments.

Here are the key results:

52% of the spouses found that their spouse spent too much time on work and had difficulties with prioritising the relations and the family.

34% of the spouses felt that they were in competition with the company in making the most pleasant and exiting life for the employee, so often the spouses felt that their spouse chose the company over them and the family.

Still 68% of the spouses were content that the company did so much for its employees.

Is it the relationship or the job?

So maybe the employees in a relationship leave because they can feel or have been explicit told that it is harmful to their relationship.

It is only a maybe as we want to research this further if other companies want to test their situation. Ideally we would like to have companies from different industries and different countries to work with. So if you are interested, please let us know.

Please share your experiences

Please share your experiences in the comment box below as we would love to get to the bottom of this and develop new knowledge in Gugin Research Unit

 

5 reasons you will never become a Leader

5 reasons you will never become a Leader

A lot of people want to become a leader. This article is about why you most likely will fail to become a leader. The article is also about what you can do yourself to change that situation. But you will probably find it is much harder than you anticipated.

read more
Leadership Keynote Speaker by Dr Finn Majlergaard

Leadership Keynote Speaker by Dr Finn Majlergaard

Leadership keynote speaker, Dr Finn Majlergaard delivers thought-provoking global leadership speeches and workshops all over the world, based on 25 years of experience with 600+ companies. Anyone can copy your product but no one can copy your culture. Learn to become the best in leadership

read more

Cultural fit or Skills? What is most important when hiring people?

Cultural fit or Skills? What is most important when hiring people?

Cultural fit or skills – what is most important when you hire people? You will probably say both, but which one comes first? Do you start by looking for people who culturally fit into your organisation or do you start by looking for specific skills for a specific job?

In Gugin we have discussed that dilemma with our clients many times. Most of them have tried to hire candidate where his or her skills fitted perfectly with the requirements, but his or her personality just made it impossible to keep that person in the job. Terminating the employment contract few months after you hired the person is sad for everyone involved. On top of that it is costly for the employer and it might set you back operationally and strategically.

Cultural fit – the dark horse in recruiting

It is fairly easy to find out if a candidate has the required skills for a particular job. And often you can get these skills verified through references, tests, interviews etc. But how do you find out if there is a good cultural fit bettwen the candidate and the organisation?

That is a far more complex tast but nevertheless even more important than finding a candidate with the right skills. There are many challenges associated with finding out if there is a cultural fit or not

  1. The first challenge is to identify the cultural DNA of your organisation. What are the true values of your organisation? Forget what you write in powerpoint presentations and on websites about your values. At the best they are good guesses but more often they are just wishful thinking. Without knowing your true cultural DNA in your organisation you can’t select people who fit into that culture
  2. The second significant challenge in terms of cultural fit is to find a way to assess candidates effectively. Lets say you have a clear image of your cultural DNA in your organisation. How do you effectively test candidates to evaluate how good a cultural fit they have with your organisation?
  3. The third challenge is – how do you seach for people who have the right cultural fit? Let us assume you know your cultural DNA and you have a proper assessment in place to test candidates for their level of cultural fit. It still leaves you with the challenge of actively searching for people with the right cultural fit.

How to identify your cultural DNA

The cultural DNA of your organisation tells about how your behaviour is in different situations and it explains your hierarchy of values when you are in a dilemma. To identify your cultural DNA you need to perform a cultural due diligence. It is a process that systematically decomposes your organisation’s behaviour, priorities, past experiences, policies, structure, motivation- and reward systems etc. The outcome is a cultural DNA that is the true image of how you behave, prioritise and lead. Gugin has developed its cultural due diligence process over the past 16 years in a synthesis between academia and experiences from having worked with hundreds of companies around the world. You can read more about it here

The importance of values

Most companies say that their most important asset is their employees, but in reality the employees are just people who can be fired. And often we see that the first response to a situation where a company is under pressure is to fire people. How does that make sense. If you are under pressure do you start by getting rid of your most important asset?

Of course not. And that is a typical example of where there is a cultural gab between the values the company says it has and the values it really has.

In our book, a value is only a value if you are willing to sacrifice something for that value. Otherwise it is just a statement. If your employees really are you most important asset you will use them to turn around the direction when you are under pressure.

Cultural fit or skills first?

Imagine there is a way where you can test candidates for cultural fit very early in the recruitment process – maybe even as the very first thing. Imagine that this test can be fully automated so that candidates are pre-screened even before you start matching their skills with the open positions. The good news is you don’t have to imagine it – it is here.

Advantages of testing for cultural fit first

  1. You will hire people who can contribute with a lot more than just their skills. They add to the value system of your organisation and strengthen your corporate culture
  2. The new hires will stay a lot longer. Because there is a cultural fit the new hires will stay a lot longer because they are in a cultural environment that they like and can relate to. When we are in a comfortable cultural environment we are much more willing to take risks. It means that we are more willing to innovate and learn new skills than if we were only hired because of our skills.
  3. If you have an attractive corporate culture and your job candidates finds it particular attractive they will probably work for less or at least have less focus on the financial compensation because they get something very valuable as well – a mutual understanding and acceptance of values, norms and priorities.

Want to get started? Here is how

Gugin brings all its expertise into identifying your cultural DNA. We do that with our cultural due diligence process which we facilitate on site with you.

How is it implemented?

There are several ways we can implement the test.

It can be built into your existing recruitment systems so that it will have the look and feel of your corporate online presence.

You can also choose to run it from Gugin’s extranet. It has the advantage that you can test for a cultural fit between your company and a candidate without disclosing your company name if that is important to you.

Let us have an informal call about how we can help you

5 reasons you will never become a Leader

5 reasons you will never become a Leader

A lot of people want to become a leader. This article is about why you most likely will fail to become a leader. The article is also about what you can do yourself to change that situation. But you will probably find it is much harder than you anticipated.

read more
Leadership Keynote Speaker by Dr Finn Majlergaard

Leadership Keynote Speaker by Dr Finn Majlergaard

Leadership keynote speaker, Dr Finn Majlergaard delivers thought-provoking global leadership speeches and workshops all over the world, based on 25 years of experience with 600+ companies. Anyone can copy your product but no one can copy your culture. Learn to become the best in leadership

read more

Here is the one thing that resolves most cultural conflicts

Here is the one thing that resolves most cultural conflicts

Cultural conflicts in the workplace

Most times when I do speeches or workshops I ask the audience if they have ever been in cultural conflicts they could have avoided if they had been more cultural intelligent at that time. Mostly 90 – 100% answer yes to that question. Those of you who know me and Gugin know that me and my colleagues in Gugin have worked on resolving cultural conflicts all over the world for the past 16 years.

We very rarely get surprised when we analyse the situation in a company or organisation. We have seen most scenarios before – even the more extraordinary and bizarre ones. And I will say we have managed to develope some powerful tools to help these organisations.

Yet there is one simple “tool” that works better than anything else.

Mostly when we meet the client for the first time we are invited into a room like this.

cultural conflictAn anonymous meeting room with nice, usually expensive furniture in a very sleek and clean design.

It is usually organised with a big (enormous sometimes) table in the middle with one seat at the end of the table where you can control all the gadgets, the curtains, the light. A great place to be if you want to show off.

For some purposes this configuration is of course practical, but I don’t believe it is ideal for any situation.

And it is totally disastrous if you have a group of people who are in the middle of a conflict. Only if you are a lawyer representing one of the parties it makes sense with a configuration like this because it will keep the conflict alive forever.

That is because there are only things in there that separates people. The table creates a division and distance that underpins the psychological and emotional distance you had when you entered the room. The person who takes the seat with the gadget controls inevitably gets control of what is happening.

We were recently in a situation like this, where we decided to try something we have never tried before. We usually take them out of the meeting room and into a location where they are all equal. It can be a room without chairs and tables, or somewhere outside.

This situation was quite severe and it had been going on for a long time. It was a conflict between the sales department, the product development department and the owners (family owned company) – a threesome. If two of them could have gone along they could have ended the conflict. But that was not the case.

We have the option of taking teams into the Borneo Rainforest on a survival trip in situations like this, but they were too many and we didn’t have time to organise it. But we could get them to Nice on the French Riviera, where Gugin has its headquarters. The company is in the food and beverage industry so despite all their differences they all had an interest in food.

This is what we did

They arrived late morning in Nice Airport (24 of them – all middle managers, executives and the family representatives) from 2 different locations in Europe. We have told them nothing about what was going to happen. We had a bus ready for them when arrived. When they were all onboard the bus they got a glas of champagne (my favorite of course). We started the scenic tour up in the mountains, where we stopped at a restaurant for lunch. We had organised it with 3 tables of 8 and people could sit where they wanted. They distributed themselves across the 3 tables almost as we had anticipated. During the one hour lunch they started to become quite talkative and less suspicious about what we were up to.

After lunch we got back in the bus en route to visit 3 vineyards in our region. Each pleace they got an introduction to the vineyard, the grapes, the history and the wines. And of course a winetasting in the end. The participants had become even more relaxed. So far so good.

Around sunset we arrived at a boutique hotel in the mountains. The participants thought they were going to sit down and enjoy a meal. They were not. After we divided them into 3 random groups of 8 the head chef came and picked them up and took them to the kitchen. There they were presented with all the ingredients they would need to prepare that evening’s meal. Starter, Main course and Dessert.

A representative from each group had a meeting where they decided on who should do what. It went much faster than we anticipated.

They were all handed out the menu and the recipes. They started to plan as they couldn’t all be in the kitchen at the same time. Over time they became very talkative. Around 23:30 the dinner was ready.

It tasted awfully – most of it, but they had a great time focusing on something that they all had a passion or at least an interest for. The transition was almost magical. The conflicts they had in the office seemed vanished. The original issues popped up once in a while during the preparation, during the dinner and during the night. But the response was different. “We figure it out when we come back”, “Oh I never knew you saw it that way” and “I am sorry if I hurt you” were some of the phrases we heard over and over again when they brought up the work-related issues.

What can we learn?

Always focus on the commonalities, and do it so powerful that the people in the conflict – at least for some time – forget what they were fighting about. When they come back to reality the perspective is totally changed.

We met with this group 3 days after the food event in the mountains for a workshop where we should identify what we could do to reconcile the difference and move forward.

There was so much positive energy and the mindset of each individual had changed too. and by the way. Instead of inviting us into a meeting room they had organised a picnic on the lawn in front in their headquarter. Pretty cool. I am proud them!

 

5 reasons you will never become a Leader

5 reasons you will never become a Leader

A lot of people want to become a leader. This article is about why you most likely will fail to become a leader. The article is also about what you can do yourself to change that situation. But you will probably find it is much harder than you anticipated.

read more
Leadership Keynote Speaker by Dr Finn Majlergaard

Leadership Keynote Speaker by Dr Finn Majlergaard

Leadership keynote speaker, Dr Finn Majlergaard delivers thought-provoking global leadership speeches and workshops all over the world, based on 25 years of experience with 600+ companies. Anyone can copy your product but no one can copy your culture. Learn to become the best in leadership

read more

I just say things as they are…

I just say things as they are…

“I just say things as they are” is a phrase you might hear quite often. Maybe even without paying attention to it. If you – as we do in Gugin work with leadership development, conflict reconciliation and cultural identities you DO pay attention to phrases like that. That is because they tell a lot about the person using it. And the things this phrase tells about the person using it is not good news.

What does “I just say things as they are” tell about the person saying it?

In december we worked with a large private health clinic in Germany. They wanted our help to integrate 2 smaller healthcare clinics they had recently acquired. We were invited into the process quite late because things started to go wrong. Despite they were 3 healthcare clinics in the same field but with different areas of specialisation they had 3 very distinct cultures. Usually that is a great foundation for a new company, but not in this case.

The acquirer believed that they could dictate everything and they expected the 2 acquired companies to do what they were told. That approach doesn’t even work with a 2-year old so how can an adult, well-educated, successful CEO assume it will work with other adult, well-educated, successful people?

In a situation like this we always start listening. I think there is a reason why we have 2 ears and only one mouth. The first meeting we attended was a steering group meeting for the integration team encompassing representatives from the 3 companies. The CEO was obviously annoyed with the discussion about how things should be organised. That was the first time we heard the phrase “I just say things as they are”. Over the next days we heard it many times when we were together with the CEO. We sensed she got more and more frustrated and so did the people around her.

Why do some people use that phrase?

The short answer to that question is that they have a low level of cultural intelligence. When you have a low level of cultural intelligence you have difficulty in seeing things from different perspectives and you might have a difficulty in seeing remote connections. If you grew up in a monocultural environment and was educated in a monocultural environment you are disposed. In a group where everybody agrees on how the world looks like, share the same values and norms you are likely to see other perspectives as wrong or even dangerous.

When we interviewed the CEO about how she looked at the transformation process she expressed a lot of fear. Fear that things would go wrong if they were not done her way. She had a strong belief in systems and rules and much less belief in people

How do other people receive that phrase?

Imagine you know you are competent, experienced and entitled to have an opinion. An opinion most other people agree with – except your boss. Constantly your boss knocks your argument and opinion down with “I just say things as they are”. You don’t agree with that it is how things are and you know you are not alone.

If you verbally are getting knocked down again and again – not by good arguments – but with “I just say things as they are”; how would you feel?

Yes. You get frustrated, angry and you will eventually look for another job. And that is what a number of the key people in the 2 acquired companies were doing. Some had already left and most of the remaining people were thinking about leaving.

Arrogance is a costly habit

When you buy a company in the healthcare industry your most important asset you are buying is intellectual capital. Up to 98% of the acquisition price is intangible assets.  That intellectual capital sits in the heads of all the people. These people go home every afternoon. If they don’t come back you have lost a huge amount of money.

The accident had already happened when we were asked to help, so our first mission was to stop the accident from getting any worse. It didn’t take us long to find the root of the problem, the CEO.

She acted the way she did because she was afraid of the new situation. She didn’t know how to deal with uncertainty and as we got to know her better it was obvious that she had been punished for failures in the past. And the best way to avoid failures is (wrong assumption anyway) doing things they way you have always done them.

We interviewed other people from the organisation at all levels and their verdict was clear. Their CEO was arrogant with no compassion. That misinterpretation is very common and if we don’t intervene is just grows bigger.

The CEO’s fear of uncertainty was perceived as arrogance. It is usually like that actually and fortunately we know what to do in such a situation.

The solution

Here is what we did:

  • We took the senior management team through our cultural intelligence training so that they learned that there is more than one equally valid truth to almost everything and they learned how to decode other people’s behaviour so that they could reconcile on a value level instead of starting a conflict.
  • We made an interview with the CEO where she explained why she wanted people to do everything her way. The interview was videorecorded and shown to the other groups we did workshops for.
  • We made interviews with representatives with the middle managers and employees where they told about how they perceived the CEO’s behaviour and that they really just wanted to make this integration process successful.
  • Now that everybody had a higher level of cultural intelligence they better understood the importance of decoding other people’s behaviour correctly. They also learned that in a potential conflict they should start looking at the commonalities. When they did that it was much easier for them to overcome the differences. Often we human being have a tendency to look for the differences. When we do that it can be very difficult to find a common ground.

What can you do?

The first thing you should do is to check if you use the phrase too. Most people are not aware of that they use it. So ask for colleagues, friends, family etc. If you do use the phrase you should work on not using it. You can either just stop using it or acquire a higher level of cultural intelligence so you would not even consider using it.

If you find yourself in a similar situation as the one described above – call for help. It is unlikely you can resolve it on your own for that simple reason that you are involved in it. So please get in touch if you need our help. We work globally – also in [CBC_COUNTRY /].

Get in touch here or send an email to gugin@gugin.com

5 reasons you will never become a Leader

5 reasons you will never become a Leader

A lot of people want to become a leader. This article is about why you most likely will fail to become a leader. The article is also about what you can do yourself to change that situation. But you will probably find it is much harder than you anticipated.

read more
Leadership Keynote Speaker by Dr Finn Majlergaard

Leadership Keynote Speaker by Dr Finn Majlergaard

Leadership keynote speaker, Dr Finn Majlergaard delivers thought-provoking global leadership speeches and workshops all over the world, based on 25 years of experience with 600+ companies. Anyone can copy your product but no one can copy your culture. Learn to become the best in leadership

read more

United Airlines corporate culture – a patient to be examined

United Airlines corporate culture – a patient to be examined

The United Airlines corporate culture exposed

When a Kentucky physician was dragged off a United Airlines plane it naturally created headlines around the world as it was an incomprehensible act, which didn’t make sense to anybody. If it had been a violent passenger or a criminal on the run it would have made some kind of sense. But it wasn’t. It was an ordinary passenger, who had paid for his ticket and sat in his assigned seat harming no-one.

He was removed because the plane was overbooked and United Airlines evaluated that he was less important than the passengers who couldn’t come onboard. But the thing is, the people waiting to get on board the plane were not passengers, but United Airlines employees. The United Airlines corporate culture showed its true face very clearly

This horrific situation was well documented and shared on social media and created headlines around the world. Within a couple of days, the market value of United Airlines dropped 800 million USD. The worst possible situation for any company in the service sector. Almost! It would have been the worst possible situation if it wasn’t for the United Airlines corporate culture that miraculously managed to make the situation even worse.

Here is the letter United Airlines CEO sent to the employees after the incident;

Dear Team, 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. Oscar

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz defends the action stating that  “Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this“. That is lear talking that leaves no misunderstanding about what the United Airlines corporate culture is.

So what does this tell us about the United Airlines corporate culture?

It tells us a lot of things that I will explain below

Rules or people first

We need to have rules in order to be able to function together. When we drive we have rules about in which side of the road to drive and so on. We have a legal system that punishes us for doing harmful things to other people or the society. If you kill another person you go to jail for a long time because we don’t tolerate that kind of behaviour. But what if you kill a close relative who is paralysed and in great pain with no chance for recovery? Should you have the same punishment as if you killed another person with cold blood? Probably not. That is why we have exceptions and that is why we in well-developed societies are judging on a scale and not binary guilty or not guilty.

Companies have rules and procedures too but they also have values. All companies say they have values, but frankly; most of these values written on corporate websites and in powerpoint presentations are rubbish! If you have a value, you don’t have a need to write it down. In Gugin we have helped many companies develop corporate cultures that fit what the company wants to achieve. One of the first things we do is to get rid of all the “fake news” these value statements on powerpoint presentations and corporate websites are. The real values are those, which sum up your behaviour and in the case of United Airlines, it is fear. Fear is the most important motivation factor we have. We explain more in this article in case you are interested.

United Airlines obviously have a preference for rules and procedures, since Mr Munoz defended the incident by saying the rules and procedures were followed. Then everything is great if that is the mindset you have.

But the world isn’t obeying Oscar Munoz’ or anyone else’s rules. It is far more complex and far too diversified. On board a plane there hundreds of different people with different cultural backgrounds, different fears, different objectives, different relationships with authorities etc. The only thing they have in common is that they want to go from A to B. To achieve that everybody accepts that there some rules that have to be followed and so did the physician from Kentucky.

Here is what United Airlines write on their own website about customer service:

Our United Customer Commitment We are committed to providing a level of service to our customers that makes us a leader in the airline industry. We understand that to do this we need to have a product we are proud of and employees who like coming to work every day. Our goal is to make every flight a positive experience for our customers. Our United Customer Commitment explains our specific service commitments so that we can continue a high level of performance and improve wherever possible. The commitment explains our policies in a clear, consistent and understandable fashion. We have detailed training programs and system enhancements to support our employees in meeting these commitments, and we measure how well we meet them

When they write: “makes us a leader in the airline industry” it generally means squeezing as much money out of you as possible to satisfy the investors.

Management by fear

The crew followed the rules, but I am absolutely sure they were uncomfortable with it because they could see that in this situation it was totally wrong. So why didn’t they say. “we have some rules but we need to solve this in another way”? Because of fear, I am sure. Fear of being punished if they break the rules, fear of being punished if they have to leave United Airlines employees on the ground. The crew’s fear is so intense that they are willing to risk everything to follow the rules.

If customer service was a key priority and if it was a value in the company, the situation could have been resolved in the same way as similar situations are resolved many times every single day at all airlines around the world. One of the most common ways to solve this is to make an announcement to the passengers on board the plane, that the plane is overbooked. The ask if someone are willing to wait for the next flight or be re-routed in return for a compensation. If not enough people volunteer to increase the compensation until the situation is resolved. It happens this way many times a day. Except at United Airlines of course because customer satisfaction is not a value – only profitability is.

I feel so sorry for the employees

As a passenger, you can choose to fly with someone else if you don’t like an airline. As a flight attendant, it is a bit more complicated. It is a job that pays your bills. You just don’t switch to another airline if you don’t like the culture in the airline you are working with. Hub location, unemployment rate, friendship with current colleagues etc. are determining factors in the decision process for quitting a job.

Don’t blame the United Airlines employees

These people who caused this incident would have behaved totally different if the United Airlines corporate culture had been different. I am sure they are excellent in doing their job, but when they end up in a dilemma they choose to follow the rules instead of preserving customer satisfaction. They do that because of fear – a fear that is very painful to carry and live with. I know that because we have worked with so many companies in a number of different industries where similar problems exist.

So instead of trying to be funny or sarcastic with the united airlines’ employees – Give them a hug. They need it

#HugAUnitedAirlineEmployeeToday

What shall United Airlines do now?

They can continue to focus on satisfying the shareholders only and hope that this incident will be forgotten or they can start a transformation process towards building relationships with the customers so that they remain loyal to you and will forgive you when you make mistakes. But to be honest I think United Airlines will stick with the first option.

What to know what YOUR real corporate culture is like? Read here

Book a Speech or Workshop on how to develop a corporate culture that prevents you from ending up like United Airlines

Whether you are an airline or any other service focused company you are no better than the service your customers feel they get. When you have a strong admirable corporate culture your customers will easier forgive you if you make a mistake. The United Airlines corporate culture is definitely working against the airline’s reputation

Book Dr Finn Majlergaard for a speech or workshop on how you can achieve that. Read more here.

 

AND – Please share if you like

 

 

 

 

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Leadership Keynote Speaker by Dr Finn Majlergaard

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