3 Lessons About Culture Every Organization Can Learn from The United Video

Posted on Posted in Culture, Featured Article

The recent United video involving a man being dragged from a flight due to overbooking has been all the talk this week in the media.  The incident highlights a few key lessons about a company culture that every organization can heed.

The general understanding of what happened is four customers were chosen at random on an overbooked flight from Chicago to Louisville.  These passengers were allowed to board the plane and then told to give up their seats when calls for volunteers produced none.  When one passenger in particular refused to give up his seat, he was removed with FORCE! (emphasis on force).

Here are a few key lessons to takeaway from the United Video:

Just because it’s standard protocol, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do:

Standard protocol.  Standard work.  Policy and procedure.  Any way you name it, just because it’s written in a manual somewhere, doesn’t mean it’s the only way to resolve the issue.  These types of documents are meant to be guidelines and not meant to cover every situation under the sun.

One way to place a buffer on these types of situations turning ugly is to regularly review the practice.  Does it still make sense?  How can we improve it?  A daily management system is a great way to bring these issues into the light and resolve them as a team.

Critical thinking skills should be a key training / development tool:

The bottom line I see in this situation is that it could have been avoided.  The United employees did not do everything they could have to resolve the matter in a different way.

Why were passengers allowed to board the plane?

It’s reported that the airline offered a $400 and then an $800 voucher with no takers.  Why not keep upping the amount until there were four volunteers?  A delay would be seen as an inconvenient, yet normal occurrence, and it would not have made the news.  However, by allowing the passengers to board and then having the situation escalate in the unique manner that it did, it became newsworthy.

Lean management system projects are an effective tool in the development of critical thinking skills.  The process encourages a challenging of the status quo, and forces the team to think outside of the box to solve issues.

If you question whether a process is customer centric, its probably time to do a review:

The United video clearly showed the result of a process not focused on the customer.  The facts point to a flight that was intentionally overbooked and a process that favors profits over the individual.  What is the reason these four passengers were bumped, you might ask?  The passengers were bumped to ensure that four crew members were available for a flight out of Louisville the next morning.

I understand that overbooking is part of the industry’s normal practices.  Most of the time, it doesn’t end up being an issue.  How, though, does the airline justify not employing proper planning to make sure that staff are available to cover a route without resorting to kicking paying customers off the flight?

Perhaps, in this case, a review of the value stream could shed some light on process breakdowns.  Reviewing the way multiple systems and processes operate to bring about the customer experience is an enlightening way to view a company’s value proposition.  A value stream map implicates poor performance and creates a compelling case for getting to a desired state that values the customer.

See the full video here: