I posted this on LinkedIn earlier today and am re-posting as a blog post to get your thoughts… and then, as I writing this, the news about the man being forcibly removed from United Airlines flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville went viral.
Update: He's now identified as Dr. David Dao, a physician with a “troubled past” who previously had his medical license suspended in Kentucky. By pointing this out, I was accused of “victim shaming” on Tuesday, which was not my intent at all. There is no excuse for how Dr. Dao was treated. He didn't deserve to be treated that way. I can simultaneously hold the opinion that he was horribly mistreated AND that he maybe shouldn't still be practicing medicine because of his previous conviction and ethical lapses. It's not like he was a serial jay walker or behind on his taxes. I wouldn't care about that.
My original LinkedIn musings:
It's interesting how English words can mean something different depending on context.
I can “be accountable” (which means to explain my actions) or managers try to “hold people accountable” (which usually means to discipline them).
Speaking of that word, I can “be disciplined” (meaning, for example, that I watch what I eat and exercise daily). Or I could “be disciplined” meaning a manager telling me I'm in trouble for doing something.
Or are they “holding me accountable?”
Discipline and accountability should be internally-driven. I don't think we can impose that from the outside or “from above” in an organization.
What do you think?
I was working from home and realized that 90% of my Facebook news feed was about this awful story:
Was that really an apology? Is United sorry for what happened or sorry that the story got out?
Video via CNN:
Video via Twitter:
— Tyler Bridges (@Tyler_Bridges) April 9, 2017
From the Tribune:
“Once the flight was boarded, passengers were told four people needed to give up their seats for stand-by United employees that needed to be in Louisville for a Monday flight and the plane wouldn't depart until they had volunteers, Bridges said. United increased the offer to $800, but no one volunteered.”
And this article says:
“Then, she said, a manager came aboard the plane and said a computer would select four people to be taken off the flight. One couple was selected first and left the airplane, she said, before the man in the video was confronted.”
And then that happened.
Update: The four people selected were Dr. Dao, his wife, and his grandchildren. In the one video, you see a woman coming up the aisle after Dr. Dao was brutally dragged off. Was that his wife? I guess the other 3 people didn't get off voluntarily before they dragged him off?
He was not wearing leggings.
I bet many people will react and blame the front line employees of United or the front line police officers who responded (see edit at the end of post, it was airport security, not CPD).
I've been thinking about some of the underlying systemic causes and contributing causes. Everybody works in a system. It's too easy to just name, blame, and shame.
Some apparent or possible contributors:
- Being way too overbooked too often (that's a business choice the airline makes)
- “We apologize for the overbook situation,” United said in a statement (but overbooking is the norm)
- Update: United admits flight was not “oversold”
- Lack of training?
- Short staffing at the gate?
- Short staffing requiring the dead-heading of employees to move them to another city instead of carrying a paying passenger?
- Extreme pressure to hit on-time departure numbers, etc.
- Not offering high enough voluntary incentive (does airline policy limit the amount?)
As for "What was United supposed to do?," there's an obvious answer: offer more money. Someone would eventually agree to take later flight.
— James Surowiecki (@JamesSurowiecki) April 10, 2017
Will the CEO, Oscar Munoz, blame and fire employees or take responsibility for the system?
Will they say they are “holding employees accountable” for their actions? Will people “be disciplined?”
What will really improve? Will they improve the system and prevent a future incident?
A friend who is a really good Lean thinker wrote:
“I think we can do a quick 5-whys and find about a dozen systemic process failures before we even mention the decision to physically drag this person off the airplane.”
I guess individuals can be held accountable for their behavior? Were they just following policy? I don't see how you can “hold fully accountable” individuals who didn't create the system they work in.
Update: Munoz later praised United employees for following standard procedures (and didn't look good for blaming the passenger's behavior for the incident). O'Hare police suspended one officer for his actions (was he the one who got physical with Dr. Dao?).
What role does culture play? A friend commented,
“This would never happen on a Southwest flight, as their employees are empowered to do the right thing for the customer.”
Here was the official response, which was also criticized widely online for only apologizing for the overbooking, not the aftermath:
United CEO response to United Express Flight 3411. pic.twitter.com/rF5gNIvVd0
— United (@united) April 10, 2017
This is funny, via the Miami Herald:
“Last month, Munoz, a former railroad executive, was named U.S. Communicator of the Year by PRWeek.”
A suggestion for a better response:
A gentle suggestion: pic.twitter.com/VhvFIc4QO3
— Jon Spaihts (@jonspaihts) April 10, 2017
And a suggestion from Wednesday's podcast guest:
How about this one? pic.twitter.com/vaKe4UNg3V
— Tom Bouthillet (@tbouthillet) April 10, 2017
As Bouthillet, a fire captain who does post-event reviews said in the podcast:
— Mark Graban (@MarkGraban) April 12, 2017
What will be the result of United's “detailed review?” Naming, blaming, and shaming employees (well, they might not name them)? Or systemic improvements that prevent future occurrences like this?
I hope that the CEO doesn't try to “solve” the problem from headquarters. They probably have their PR people activated. What about the process improvement people? Will somebody go and do some rational investigation and problem solving, as I wrote about here?
Over 10 years ago, I posted something about United hiring people for Lean and continuous improvement. Whatever happened with that?
Jeff Liker wrote about CEO Munoz being “a Lean leader” a few years back. I hope that's the case.
The news cycle will have moved on. We might not hear about the follow up.
I'll update this post as more is learned.
Apparently it was “Chicago airport police.”
“The officers who removed the man from the plane were Chicago Aviation Police personnel, not Chicago Police officers.
“The incident … was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure and the actions of the aviation security officer are obviously not condoned by our Department. The officer has been placed on leave effective today and pending a thorough review of the situation.”
It's probably more fair and just to suspend somebody for not following SOPs. Would they have been suspended without the “bad result” of bad publicity?
“Treating our customers and each other with respect and dignity is at the core of who we are, and we must always remember this no matter how challenging the situation.”
Really? Respect and dignity?
And, do employees really need to be reminded about dignity and respect. Do employees really forget about safety and doing the right thing? See related posts about GM CEO Mary Barra and Cleveland Clinic CEO Dr. Toby Cosgrove blaming their employees for forgetting what's important. Do employees forget or do their executives lose sight of this?
This can be fixed. It needs to be fixed at the top, through changes to policies and systems, not by blaming the front line workers and manager.
Update: New video shared via the New York Post shows Dr. Dao saying he'd rather go to jail and you'll have to “drag me down” to get him off the plane. But that hardly constitutes permission to get physical with him.