Wednesday, September 19th, 2018

Company Reputation Is an Inside-out Job

A year after a customer was dragged off one of their planes, United Airlines made another major mistake. This time, they angered employees with a poorly thought-out change to their incentive program.

President Scott Kirby announced to employees via email that their quarterly performance bonus and attendance programs would be replaced with a lottery. Yes, a lottery.  Work hard and you might get a chance to win a car or money. Check out the details of the announcement on Inc.

3-day About-face

Once again, it took United Airlines leadership about three days to do an about-face. After making the decision in isolation, the company pressed “the pause button” after hearing “feedback and concerns” from employees, according to Business Insider.

If they can change direction in three days – based on backlash that many people would have foreseen – why can’t they spend the time to make better decisions?

You can’t expect your employees to exceed the expectations of your customers if you don’t exceed the employees’ expectations of management. ~ Howard Schultz, CEO Starbucks Coffee

Here’s how they could engage employees, drawing on their experience, ideas and input:

  • Involve the people who will be affected by the decision (employees, union reps)
  • Involve people who are experts (e.g. about incentives and overall compensation)
  • Consider multiple options and their potential consequences
  • Collaborate to come up with a new program

I would have expected that risk management– which has to be part of operating an airline – would have dictated a more thoughtful approach. In the end, it appeared to be a crude attempt to save money – gambling with the livelihoods of about 89,000 employees.

According to CNBC, Kirby told employees it was meant to be a “more exiting program.” Employees saw it differently, citing how other airlines reward employees. I think that comparison – and employee resentment for the disregard the policy showed – don’t bode well for employee turnover.

Anyone who thinks they can treat employees poorly and have a healthy brand and great reputation is playing a dangerous lottery!

Employees Who Feel Valued Provide Great Customer Service

When I first wrote about United Airlines and their infamous “customer service incident,” it was apparent the company had issues with their procedures, culture and processes. This is further proof their challenges go deeper.

Maybe it’s time the company reconnected to the message it sends potential employees under Bonuses on the benefits section of their website:

Our employees are critical to our success, so we reward them financially through profit sharing, customer satisfaction bonuses and on-time arrival bonuses when the airline performs well.

Company brand is an “inside out” job

Employees bring your brand to life with their actions. They are the source of the company reputation.

Thinking about how to best involve your employees in decisions and planning? It’s a great way to build engagement, satisfaction and a collaborative culture. I would love to help you make the most of the opportunity.