A Tale of Two Storms
Why is it that when two companies are faced with the same dilemma, one of them comes through with flying colors while the other just drops the ball completely? To me, it has everything to do with the culture and attitude that permeates the entire organization, from the top on down.
A few weeks ago while delivering a keynote speech at a corporate sales meeting in Tampa; I spoke about the merits of Southwest Airlines. Afterwards, one of the audience members relayed to me an experience he had with Southwest that proved my point completely.
This guy lives in Chicago. At the time of the story he had a girlfriend in Baltimore, who he would visit every weekend. The story takes place during the summer, when thunderstorms always make flying out of Chicago an adventure.
One weekend he was headed to Baltimore on U.S. Air. While seated in the gate area waiting to board, an announcement came over the PA system which said, “We are expecting thunderstorms in the area. So instead of boarding now and taking the chance you’ll be stuck sitting on the plane waiting for the weather to clear, we’ll just keep you in the gate area.” The upshot: the flight arrived in Baltimore three hours late.
The very next weekend he was again heading to Baltimore, this time on Southwest Airlines. While sitting in the gate area, the same announcement came over the loudspeaker, which told the passenger about thunderstorms in the area. But this time they followed by saying, “So we’re going to speed up the process; start boarding immediately and try to beat the thunderstorms out of here. In fact, we’re going to be extremely annoying in order to get you to move quickly. Let’s see if we can get those thunderstorms chasing US all the way to Baltimore.”
Needless to say they left on time and landed on time; why is that? Culture, that’s why.
The US Air people were most concerned about “Not screwing up and making people angry.” In the back of their minds they were probably saying, “What happens if we board them and the thunderstorms hit before they take off? All those people will get stuck sitting on the plane and we’ll look like idiots.” As if sitting in the gate area for three hours was a FAR better alternative.
The people from Southwest were only concerned with succeeding, and as you know, if you’re long time reader of this blog; listen to my Monday Motivational Minute; or read my book, The Best Damn Sales Book Ever, “Not failing,” is a lot different than succeeding.
The troubling part of this story is the lack of effort put forth by the people from US Air. There was nothing stopping them from doing the same thing Southwest did; except the different attitudes and cultures of the two airlines.
At Southwest, the attitude is, “Let’s do whatever it takes to get this plane out of here on time.” At US Air (and many other companies), the attitude is, “We did what we were supposed to do. Everything would have been OK if it weren’t for the thunderstorms, which is something totally beyond our control.”
First off, you will never be successful doing just what you are supposed to do. Like the people at Southwest Airlines, success only comes to those who do MORE than they’re supposed to do.
Second, while thunderstorms are not something you can control and could be unexpected, the most successful people and companies constantly prepare for the unexpected. While we never know what’s going to happen, you can rest assured that something always will happen!
The kind of culture and attitude found at Southwest Airlines (and any other successful company), always starts at the top. While innovation is a bottom up process that starts with the people closest to the action, an outstanding culture, attitude and commitment are top down qualities that start with upper management and permeate every corner of an organization.
By the way, BAD culture, attitude and commitment do the same thing no matter how large or small your company. If you want to learn more about forming solid client relationships and delivering amazing customer service, I’m offering Make My Life Easier: What the 21st Century Customer Really Wants, plus my other video and CD packages, at a 40% discount until February 11th, 2009. Click here!