Monday, May 20, 2019

Six More Things About the Boeing 737 MAX Crisis


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“The crisis drags on” is about the last thing an organization, its investors, and its customers want to hear. But that is what’s happening at one of the world’s most venerable companies. Unfortunately, the manner in which Boeing is communicating – or not – has become its own news story. And, while there have been hundreds of articles and reports on the 737 MAX crashes, I have a few additional observations to share using my 6 A’s of Apology model.

Acknowledging something has happened. It was impossible to deny the loss of 346 lives in two crashes. But in the days following the tragedies, Boeing claimed the 737 Max was safe and the MCAS (the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, which caused the planes to lose control), was "certified." This creates an astounding dissonance: While the fleet is stilled grounded, they're continuing to work furiously on an MCAS software fix. It took weeks for Boeing to say, “We own it.” Score: 5/10

Authentic expression of regret. Initial statements and testimony placed some blame on pilot training. Then CEO Denis Muilenburg said weeks later, "We at Boeing are sorry for the lives lost in the recent 737 MAX accidents. These tragedies continue to weigh heavily on our hearts and minds, and we extend our sympathies to the loved ones of the passengers and crew on board Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302." My friend Helio Fred Garcia, president of Logos Consulting Group, said: "Trust didn't fall because two of its plane crashes. Trust fell because they were seen to be indifferent." Score: 5/10

Appropriate tone and language. As pointed out above, this is the tale of two phases, two apologies. Following the accidents, the tone-deafness was jarring. The later statement and corporate video seemed to make up some ground but it was sprinkled with jargon like “MCAS” and “erroneous angle of attack information.” And Mr. Muilenburg fell into the “me” trap when he said, “I cannot remember a more heart wrenching time in my career.” Score: 6/10

Acceptable venue. One gets the sense that Boeing is being dragged into its apologies and has failed to rapidly, proactively face its publics. While public statements and videos are becoming normalized, they fail to come face-to-face with those affected. It reinforces a wall of separation and does not allow interaction or engagement. Score: 6/10

Acting in the right timeframe. The video apology came 26 days after the second crash – Ethiopian Airlines. Enough said. Score: 6/10

Announcing next steps. Boeing said initially that they were “humbled” and “learning.” It was honest but not terribly reassuring or instructional. Saying they will “deliver airplanes to airline customers and to the flying public that are safe to fly” is like Starbucks saying they’ll serve coffee that’s safe to drink. Boeing finally came around and said they "will ensure accidents like that of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 never happen again… top engineers and technical experts [are] working tirelessly" and that they will give pilots "training and additional educational materials." Score: 6/10

The 6 A’s rubric weights the elements differently. So, my overall score – and you may certainly have a different evaluation – works out to 55/100. An “F.”

Apologies – good ones, bad ones – have real consequences. Boeing’s behaviors have broken trusts, damaged its reputation, slowed sales, harmed valuation, and created fear in the flying public. But I know they'll make it back. They’re fundamentally, historically a good company making good products and time will muffle the damage. But it’s been an unnecessary, destructive, lengthy episode. I hope something instructive can come from all the loss.



Monday, February 25, 2019

Morale Is More Than Fun


If I read one more article about how to boost morale in the workplace simply by saying nice things to co-workers and subordinates, I might say something decidedly not nice. The message and the tone – what you say and how you say it – are, of course, important elements in the morale equation. No doubt. But words are the end, not the beginning, of the effort. We must start with an examination of the culture and values of the organization, and how the leadership implements them.

I won’t point a finger at the recently published piece that set me off. I was encouraged initially when I read the first point: conduct an assessment. Then, hopes were dashed when it was clear the research was not about values or culture or communication practices. It was about your attitude. Again, it’s an important point but not where to begin. Morale is complicated, not one-dimensional, and goes to the core of the organization and its leadership.

Perhaps the most common mistake in the one-dimensional realm is confusing fun for morale. I had a boss who once asked me what morale measures I was undertaking for the office I was recently hired to lead. I said I involved the whole operation – in teams and as individuals – in discussions about our new direction. I reported that we were creating new business plans, investing in training, developing individualized career paths, and ensuring everyone understood their role and their goals. Excitement and camaraderie was building. And, I added that we just celebrated a new business win with a very enjoyable happy hour. “Yeah, that’s fine,” he responded. “But it’s not enough.”

He insisted that I give $200 to each staff member and the morning off so they can buy something for themselves. Then, host a lunch where everyone could share what they bought. I was incredulous and pretty sure gave a reflexive, accidental eye roll. I added to the blooming disagreement by saying, “Isn’t that a bit like a band aid? I think morale is an outcome of doing all the great stuff we’ve set in motion. What expectations are we setting with the $200? What will we need to do next week or next month?”

That may not have been the best way to raise an objection but I saw too many forced-fun, temporary fixes before. You can try to build instant, synthetic relationships but authenticity rules and it takes time for cohesiveness to gel.

Like so many other important efforts, organizational behaviors and principles must be continually role modeled and reinforced. You cannot put your mission/vision/values statement in a nice frame, nail it to the conference room wall and walk away. Make them count. All the time. This applies to the intern, to the board of directors, and everyone in between. And we must ensure there are consequences for negative or harmful actions. Want to undermine the morale of your organization? Ignore, tolerate or reward bad behavior. Don’t confront the toxic employee.

The bottom line is that morale, or creating a fun or a “cool” place to work, is an outcome of an honest, ethical, communicative and interesting work environment. Organizations succeed when they focus on delivering differentiated products or services, provide unambiguous information, and instill confidence with visible and empathetic leadership.

Between posts, I invite you to follow me @pauloestreicher.


Thursday, February 7, 2019

A Bit of Camelot at Microsoft

Some say Satya Nadella is Microsoft’s knight in shining armor. It turns out the metaphor is not so far-fetched.

While he may not know it, the Microsoft CEO is channeling a bit of King Arthur. And Redmond, Washington shows some hints of Camelot.

Simone Stolzoff profiled Nadella in a recent Quartz article, which was striking in the way it tracked some of the characteristics of King Arthur outlined in my book Camelot, Inc. Arthur, likely a composite figure stitched together over a few centuries, has uncanny resonance in today’s world of business and politics.

In the case of Mr. Nadella, whom I know only through articles and interviews, we see an unassuming ruler/CEO who commands a far-flung empire/company. Here are a few of the Arthurian traits seen in Mr. Nadella:

Humility. Arthur was known to be “of the people” and eschewed many formalities. Nadella famously had a stage lowered so he wasn’t seen looking down on the audience, literally and figuratively. Bluster was out, thoughtfulness was in. Pomp and circumstance gave way to being relatable and approachable.

Accountability. Arthur established a new civil code, which was applied equally even when it put his own family at risk. When Nadella botched an answer and sounded insensitive to the issue of women and pay raises, he admitted it quickly and wrote a message to the company.

Articulating Mission and Vision. Arthur inherited a chaotic kingdom with threats from within and abroad. He created common purpose and common values, uniting the country, brought relative peace, and did what was right and good, not what was convenient or conventional. Numerous challenges faced Microsoft when Nadella took control but his first order of business was to address the company’s mission and culture. He knew being too deeply in love with their 20th century idea of “a computer on every desk” would leave Microsoft behind in the 21st. A new rallying point needed to be created.

Communication. Among its many symbolic aspects, the Round Table was a gathering place. Arthur demanded occasional face-to-face time to rekindle relationships and share ideas because his knights were most often far out in the countryside enforcing the new laws. At Microsoft, employees are invited for “One Week” — an annual meeting to “drum up new ideas, tackle problems, create change and make a difference.”

Learn, Do, Repeat. Well before he knew he was to be King (and knew of his noble birth), young Arthur was tutored by Merlin who told him (in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King), “Learn why the world wags and what wags it.” And when Arthur thought he failed, Merlin reminded him “It was an experiment. Experiments lead to new ones.” Microsoft made a business and cultural leap when it adopted a learning mindset. “We went from a culture of know-it-alls to a culture of learn-it-alls,” said Chris Capossela, Microsoft’s chief marketing officer.

There are many more parallels and, to be sure, we can learn much about what not to do, too, from King Arthur. For now, I’ll be happy that a little bit of Arthur lives on. I only wish there were more leaders to include in the story.

Between posts, I invite you to follow me @pauloestreicher.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Four Steps to Save $69 Million


For some industry watchers, it was only a matter of time. Former Fox star Megyn Kelly crashed at NBC. Media analyst Bill Carter said network executives might have been blinded by "glamor glare. That's the effect that sometimes emanates from a glowing-hot-on-air talent. It can lead to temporary loss of vision." It's been reported that Kelly's position in NBC's blindspot may cost up to $69 million.

After CNN posted “Megyn Kelly was never a fit for NBC” in a headline, I began to think about how one should counsel management. How do you cut down the “glare” and improve the ability to peer into blindspots?

It’s clear that one can’t hope and wish for good intentions to pay off. There’s work involved. “We need to use both the gut and analytical approaches to decisions, particularly for high-stakes stuff. And we need to do analysis well,” said Ken Shotts, professor of Political Economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business speaking on matters unrelated to Kelly. Neil Malhotra, another professor of Political Economy at Stanford added, “Very high-functioning people don’t often understand that they use their intellect to rationalize their gut.” 

So, pulling from my mostly successful track record in building teams, here are four filters for evaluating job candidates:

1.   Find a Cultural Fit. Team members need to share values, and a common commitment to the mission and vision of the organization. It does not mean hiring clones. Diversity of background and diversity of thought adds important perspective and helps sharpen ideas.

2.   Ensure Brand Consistency. While every team member is an ambassador, high profile individuals have a larger impact on the organization’s brand. Carter reported that network’s top news executive, Andrew Lack, “seemed seduced by the idea of stretching the appeal of NBC News.” There’s a big difference, of course, between stretching your connection – or modifying the organization’s identity – and breaking it. Obviously, Kelly’s scandalous racial comments crossed an undeniable line.

3.   Understand the Difference Between Aptitude and Intelligence. Kelly is smart – no question. Carter, who said she was “icily appealing on Fox News as a solo act,” was a flop when pushed “to emulate Oprah Winfrey by playing warm and wise.” I’m sure we can all point to capable people who floundered in the wrong environment.

4.   Avoid Groupthink. Groupthink is not just thinking in groups. Dr. Irving L. Janis, as a research psychologist at Yale in 1971, said it’s “a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ striving for unanimity overrides their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.” Bottom line: Avoid yes-people and allow alternate, even unconventional, views to be aired.

The consequences of overlooking these steps can be devastating. And I don’t only mean the $69 million “oops” in the Kelly case. There could be anything from grousing and low productivity to reputational damage and loss of business.

It’s true that people make or break an organization. Rushing a decision to fill the box is a mistake. It’s essential to take the time to plan, assess, and question when building a cohesive, ethical, high performance team.

Between posts, I invite you to follow me @pauloestreicher.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Your Plate That’s Full of Stuff to Do? Break It.



On second thought, don't break it. Trade it in for a different kind of plate - I'll explain.

Plates are flat but we put our projects, with different dimensions, priorities and timelines, onto the same surface. They can mingle together like the turkey gravy, cranberry sauce and mashed sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving. While putting those together on one fork may not be tragic, dropping projects onto the same pile can create confusion, delay and lost opportunities.  

Using the “plate” for our to-dos is a two-dimensional fix for our four-dimensional problems. We need tiers, like those multilevel plates stacked with petits fours, little cookies and tiny tarts that we see on the buffet line. This metaphor only takes us so far, though. We won’t be successful if all we do is group seemingly like projects into different stacks. This is about how to first think about the assignments.

It’s a given that all assignments require us to operate in both the trenches and the wide-open skies. Vision and execution are sometimes difficult to balance but the big picture is not mutually exclusive of paying attention to the details.

With all that as the backdrop, I offer a top-line approach to evaluating what’s on your plate – the 4 R’s of Realigning Workload:

1.     Risk – potential impact of doing, not doing
2.     Range – short, medium, long term issues and influences
3.     Requirements – data, time, money, personnel
4.     Return on investment – financial, reputation, safety/security

Perspective and flexibility are crucial to finding success with this or any other methodology. The values placed on any of these components may depend on where you are in the organization, your responsibilities and their scope, and what you have to lose or gain. In addition, the way we approach various projects will require different combinations of thinking processes along a spectrum from concrete and narrow to critical and analytical to inspired and visionary.

In fast-paced environments, we’re often driven more by deadlines than the importance of the task or issue. Using the 4 R’s, we can make more informed decisions and apply resources more effectively. So let’s not be too put-off by a little process; it’s not a dirty word. Discipline is needed in finding creative solutions to our challenges and opportunities.


Between posts, I invite you to follow me on Twitter @pauloestreicher.