**This is the first of a two part series. Link to the second post is at the bottom.**
After 30 minutes on the plane, we were all asked to get off as the mechanical problem identified needed further attention. We were a band of 25 people from Orlando heading to a connecting flight in Newark that would take us to the other side of the world for a study abroad course. This was not a great way to begin our adventure. When the plane was still unfixed a couple of hours later, tensions rose. We began to abandon hope that we would be able to continue on together. However, as negotiations began to figure out how to get all of our members across the Atlantic, employees insisted that since our tickets had been booked as a group – they could not break up the reservation to split the group onto available flights. This, despite the very real mathematical problem of ZERO flights heading into Greece with 25 open seats over the next several days. The story is long and epic so I’ll offer the low-lights:
- Due to employees’ inability to use common sense and creatively problem-solve, several flight opportunities passed before they finally realized they would have to split the group. One half was put on a plane to a connecting city. The other half was placed in a hotel for the night which turned out to have trouble with running water. The staff at the hotel commented that they are forever housing ‘refugees’ from this airline.
- When the second group boarded their plane the next morning, they again had to deplane when a mechanical problem was identified. They eventually left on a different plane.
- Both groups upon arrival in Frankfurt found that their reservation had not been properly transferred to the partner airline that was rescuing the flights and so they had no seats booked to our destination. Thankfully, this new airline did have a different organizational culture and a few nail-biting hours later, managed to book seats for every person….except one who ended up having to wait alone in a foreign airport for a later flight. It just so happened that she was the one student who had expressed a mortal fear of being separated from the group because on a trip she had taken in undergrad, a classmate was separated from the group and found murdered. We begged and pleaded for someone else to be left behind but already taxed by their efforts to fix the ticketing problem, they explained that because the original airline had not broken up the group booking in their system – they were unable to switch out any individual tickets.
This particular airline has been in the news numerous times over the past few years for GROSS mis-steps resulting in severe consequences. They are a perfect illustration of poor organizational health manifested in high turnover, low productivity (major fleet issues), politics which prevent employees from having the freedom to problem solve, confusion and low morale. The employees we encountered were clearly unhappy and we could not blame them. The public remains puzzled as to how these problems continue. A closer look at the players reveal experts in all the usual concerns: marketing, finance and strategy. Clearly, the problem is not smarts. So what is it?
Organizational health. I’m not talking bean bag chairs and napping rooms here. It’s hard to describe; difficult to measure objectively, but you KNOW when it’s good (Southwest) and you KNOW when it’s bad (the airline we were on). It’s a simple concept but it’s incredibly complex to implement. Finance, Strategy and Marketing (smarts) are the what. Organizational health is the how. The way in which you implement and maintain budgetary management, goal setting, and telling the corporate story – that is organizational health. That strays into emotional and awkward territory which is why it is typically skirted over in management schools (or spoken of largely in intellectual terms) and avoided by most managers/leaders. Problem is, as organizational culture expert – Patrick Lencioni asserts: sustainable success is impossible without BOTH smarts AND health. Business leaders may want to stay in their ‘smart’ comfort zone but guess what?
Intrigued? Interested in learning what this looks like and how it applies to you? Stay tuned tomorrow for more…