American Airlines is in the news every day. And most of it is not good news.
We have read about union issues, negotiation struggles, bankruptcy, customer service issues, and a host of other maladies about the airline.
But, in the Dallas Morning News Business section on February 22, 2012, there is a great article about how American provides free legal service to deserving citizens. You can read the entire article here.
The article features Marjorie Powell, who is an assistant general counsel at American Airlines. She oordinates pro bono work for the carrier’s 40 in-house attorneys. American was among the first corporations to implement a formal pro bono program. American requires each lawyer to complete ten hours of pro bono work each year.
I have known Powell for more than 25 years. Always bright and insightful, she had a remarkable career transformation, starting with dance as an undergraduate student, to communication as a master’s student, and then on to law school. She is quite a success story, and her featured picture and article in the newspaper is quite deserving. I wish she had more time to tell her story to people who feel down-and-out. She has demonstrated that you can do anything, if you put your mind to it, and decide that is what you want to do.
American is not alone. You will read in the article about other companies that do this, such as Exxon Mobil and AT&T.
I hope you find this as refreshing as I do. Not only is this good news about American Airlines, but also, good news about corporate giving and social responsibility. And, it is great to see good news on the front page of the Business section for a change.
What do you think ? Let’s talk about it really soon.
“We hire happy people and teach them to make sandwiches.”
Pret a Manger summarizes its personnel policies (from Demand, Adrian Slywotzky)
So American Airlines has filed for bankruptcy (Chapter 11 – the kind that lets them keep flying). Is anyone surprised? The clues were always staring us in the face – at least, in my experience. The main clue? When I flew American, the employees for American Airlines practically never looked happy. Not the ticket agents. Not the flight attendants. It’s not that they were rude, or unpleasant. They just looked…unhappy. And when work is an unhappy place, not a fun place, then you’ve got a morale problem. And when morale is bad, things begin slipping badly.
Now, I’m not an expert on American Airlines, and I am sure there are big, economic problems that brought them to this step. And maybe you’ve not sensed the “unhappiness” that I always seemed to sense on an American Airlines flight. But I think their morale has been low for quite a while. (I really hope they bounce back – for their employees, and for our flight schedules out of DFW).
But I am becoming somewhat obsessed with this morale idea. I think we’ve got a lot of places that are not much “fun” to work at these days. And I think an unhappy place is a place that will slip badly in the customer service arena. And once customer service slips… well, you know the problems…
In the book Demand: Creating What People Love Before They Know They Want It by Adrian J. Slywotzky, we learn about the restaurant Pret a Manger (Pret a Manger, from the French, “ready to eat”). One particular location had been slipping. There had been noticeable slippage in the delivery on the restaurant’s promises – it wasn’t as clean, the food wasn’t quite up to par, and customer service slipped. And, the location was not making money. The manager of that location noticed dust on a chandelier – this was his signal to get to work. And he went to work on morale issues.
Employee morale suffered, and the perpetually cheery service for which Pret stores are famous became inconsistent. Sales declined further. Downward spirals start small, but they tend to keep going. After a while, they are very hard to reverse.
…entropy—the gradual dissipation of energy and loss of order that is the natural tendency of any system that is not constantly reinvigorated from outside.
He did turn it around. With a lot of hard work, and some latitude from headquarters (along with a little money), the restaurant looked better, the food looked better, the people got better, and then the location started making money – pretty soon, lots of money.
And here’s the hiring philosophy of Pret a Manger in a sentence: “We hire happy people and teach them to make sandwiches.”
Start with happy people; teach them the skill set needed for this particular job; keep them happy. And then the customers will come.
I don’t know how to turn around the morale for a company like American Airlines. I suspect they are in for some tough days. But I certainly hope they can turn it around.
And, take a look at your place, your company, your folks. Are they happy, glad to be at work? If not, you’ve got some morale work to do.
#1 – Demand is a really good book. I am presenting it Friday at the First Friday Book Synopsis. It is worth a careful read. (Bob Morris told me it was good. He was right!)
#2 – The Pret a Manger story reminded me of my friend Cecil Eager. He owns the Gruene Mansion Inn Bed & Breakfast in New Braunfels, TX, and he put it simply (and this is brilliant): “You can teach someone how to check someone in; you can teach someone how to make a reservation – but you can’t teach friendly.”
I met Captain Sam as I was flying home last week – we sat beside one another on the flight. Sam (I have changed the name because his business environment is really not healthy) has flown for American Airlines long enough that he has seen lots of change and 3 or 4 CEO’s. We talked about a lot of things but what struck me was how the culture at airlines was chipping away at Sam. At one point I asked him about his relationship to his employer. He said he feels like a 40 watt light bulb – cheap and easy to change. Whoa! Note to Gerald Arpey – you have a lot more to worry about than just falling revenues! Mihaly Csikzenthmihaly says it very well in his book Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning, “…if management views workers not as valuable, unique individuals but as tools to be discarded when no longer needed, then employees will also regard the firm as nothing more than a machine for issuing paychecks, with no other value or meaning. Under such conditions it is difficult to do a good job…” Mr Arpey, I assure you that Sam is the best pilot he can be every time he enters the cockpit, but what is the burden on your workforce when the best of the best feel like a 40 watt light bulb? Those who lead – whatever size the company – need to balance the needs of the business with the needs of their workforce. Jim Collins reminds us in Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness…is a matter of conscious choice.”