Charlie Martin knows about big corporations making themselves look foolish … and far too often doubling down on the stupid:
This whole recent thing with United Airlines has me thinking, once again, about how big organizations act like idiots. […]
Like all good consultants, I have a Model, mostly cribbed from others, based on two observations:
- The SNAFU principle: the farther up a hierarchy information has to travel, the more information is lost. This is because no one likes giving people bad news, so the news tends to get better the farther up it goes.
- The Peter Principle (modified): people rise in a hierarchy to the limits of their competence in rising in a hierarchy; further, the skill of rising in a hierarchy is largely independent of the skills needed to deal with actual issues.
Of course, the implication of this is something I’ve called Carl’s Corollary (for a friend and co-worker Carl Madison, who first pointed it out). Carl’s Corollary implies that most decisions are being made by people less and less competent to deal with the situation, using increasingly bad information.
Naturally, this results in bad decisions being made. The usual result is that once the bad decision has been made, someone is identified to be responsible, that person is punished, and a new policy is issued to make sure no one makes that mistake again.
United, though, has a different scheme, clearly. They have a Book, and it Must Be Followed. No one on the ground in Chicago — at least no one in reach of the gate — had the authority to do anything but offer an $800 voucher, which just wasn’t enough. (I can relate. I used to be a “45 weeks a year” road warrior, and there were some nights where if they’d have tried to bump me off a flight home, I would have either killed someone or just thrown myself on the floor of the terminal screaming.) So they followed the Book, and when they couldn’t get Dao to leave, they followed the book again saying he was disruptive, and then the mall airport cops went all Cartman on him…
… and the rest was history.
Now, imagine if, instead, the gate people had the authority to offer more. And the gate agents knew their primary responsibility was to make customers happy and not get bad publicity.