As many know by now, United Airlines has been on the receiving end of a lot of bad press lately. Most notably, one flight saw an innocent passenger forcibly removed via lottery so that a United employee could have his seat on the plane. The passenger was knocked unconscious as he was removed, looking like someone who had picked a fight with a bus, and it was all caught on video. Worse yet, United CEO Oscar Munoz acknowledged no wrong-doing in the situation at first, in that employees allegedly followed established guidelines. Needless to say, this did not go over well with the public either.
So in an article for Entrepreneur, Brian Fielkow outlines five of the leadership failures that allowed United’s image debacle to occur:
- Never compromise your core values.
- Hold yourself accountable.
- Anticipate what can go wrong.
- You can’t walk it back.
- Be human.
United’s core values purport to include being “warm and welcoming,” and they “make decisions with facts and empathy.” Dragging an unconscious dude off a plane while a lady yells, “Oh my God! Look at what you did to him!” seems slightly off-message by comparison. But Munoz does not address this discrepancy in his first formal statement at all, which suggests their “core values” are just fluff.
Instead, he emphasizes all the chances that the passenger was offered to comply with what United wanted, and the fact that he was offered compensation to get off the flight. (Never mind the fact that the plane was not overbooked in the first place!) What this says to all United employees is that it is okay to deflect blame as much as possible. Munoz could have at least shared blame and acknowledged mistakes were made in his first statement.
At some point before things got physical, it must have been clear that the passenger would not get off the plane according to the options he had been offered. There should have been a contingency in this case to offer more options, such as increased compensation, or at least a contingency for someone to have the authority to create more contingencies. By following their guidelines to the letter, they created a PR disaster that was ultimately more costly than a United employee missing a flight.
Granted, Munoz did write a second, more empathetic statement after the first one had blown up in his face, but it was too late by then. The damage had already been done. Munoz had one chance to respond as a human instead of a walking HR report, and he chose walking HR report.
So yes, United and Munoz deserve the avalanche of hilarious social media memes that have resulted from this otherwise unfortunate situation. And for that matter, you will deserve it too if your business ever makes these same mistakes. But it is also important to remember that, long-term, redemption is always possible. This is far from the end of United. After all—the prices for United flights are probably about to drop!
You can view the original article here: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/292820