It’s the fluffiness

Readability

It's the fluffiness

United employ­ees forcibly drag a doc­tor off a plane. Amer­i­can employ­ees hit a mother of two across the face. What in the heck is going on here?

Fluffy guid­ance, that’s what.

Air­lines are in a heav­ily reg­u­lated indus­try, with rules upon rules. Every time you fly, gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions demand you hear the same ditty about lighted egress routes and oxy­gen bags, the excuse being that they save lives (although rear fac­ing seats would be more effec­tive). In most cases, the rules tend to cover the cir­cum­stances. But not always.

When rules hit a snag, employ­ees do one of two things:

  1. Strictly enforce the rules.
  2. Use guid­ance to mod­ify the rules and accom­plish your end state.

But have you looked at cor­po­rate guid­ance lately? It would be hard to do so for the air­lines. I tried and strug­gled to find any­thing pub­licly posted. When I look at other com­pa­nies, I find guid­ance, but it tends to be fluffy, using big words like “empow­ered” that don’t mean much when you’re deal­ing with irate cus­tomers.

The civil­ian side could take a les­son from the mil­i­tary. Com­man­ders are taught to issue guid­ance so that their sub­or­di­nates will have prin­ci­ples to guide their actions when they face sit­u­a­tions not cov­ered by the rules. A good exam­ple is Pacific Fleet, where the guid­ance fits on a sheet of paper but cov­ers their mis­sion, prin­ci­ples and what the end state should be.

Guid­ance gives employ­ees flex­i­bil­ity. United could have offered to boot four pas­sen­gers and give them first class tick­ets on a follow-​on flight. It could have offered more than 800 dol­lars. If employ­ees knew that their CEO wanted pas­sen­gers to be happy fly­ing United, then an employee bend­ing pol­icy to accom­plish that would be cel­e­brated. Guid­ance also gives employ­ees a voice, because when estab­lished rules con­flict with guid­ance, employ­ees can and should point it out. Over­book­ing makes it hard to keep peo­ple happy if you get bumped. I’m will­ing to bet more than a few United employ­ees have good ideas on how to pre­vent over­book­ing issues, although it’s doubt­ful they will be heard.

We have too many peo­ple claim­ing air­lines haul peo­ple off because of prof­its. Yes, that’s a moti­va­tion, but not the entire story. I think it’s lazi­ness on part of man­age­ment. Issu­ing iron-​clad rules is easy, espe­cially from a cushy office build­ing. Writ­ing guid­ance so that your employ­ees can nav­i­gate the dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions they face each day is much harder.


This post rep­re­sents the views of the author and not those of the Depart­ment of Defense, Depart­ment of the Navy, United Air­lines, Amer­i­can Air­lines, or Dis­ney. I don’t have the train­ing in force chok­ing and hand to hand com­bat to prop­erly rep­re­sent any of those organizations.

If you enjoyed Darth Vader as a United Air­lines employee, please check out my blog and donate to Da Tech Guy.

United employees forcibly drag a doctor off a plane.  American employees hit a mother of two across the face.  What in the heck is going on here?

Fluffy guidance, that’s what.

Airlines are in a heavily regulated industry, with rules upon rules.  Every time you fly, government regulations demand you hear the same ditty about lighted egress routes and oxygen bags, the excuse being that they save lives (although rear facing seats would be more effective).  In most cases, the rules tend to cover the circumstances.  But not always.

When rules hit a snag, employees do one of two things:

  1. Strictly enforce the rules.
  2. Use guidance to modify the rules and accomplish your end state.

But have you looked at corporate guidance lately?  It would be hard to do so for the airlines.  I tried and struggled to find anything publicly posted.  When I look at other companies, I find guidance, but it tends to be fluffy, using big words like “empowered” that don’t mean much when you’re dealing with irate customers.

The civilian side could take a lesson from the military.  Commanders are taught to issue guidance so that their subordinates will have principles to guide their actions when they face situations not covered by the rules.  A good example is Pacific Fleet, where the guidance fits on a sheet of paper but covers their mission, principles and what the end state should be.

Guidance gives employees flexibility.  United could have offered to boot four passengers and give them first class tickets on a follow-on flight.  It could have offered more than 800 dollars.  If employees knew that their CEO wanted passengers to be happy flying United, then an employee bending policy to accomplish that would be celebrated.  Guidance also gives employees a voice, because when established rules conflict with guidance, employees can and should point it out.  Overbooking makes it hard to keep people happy if you get bumped.  I’m willing to bet more than a few United employees have good ideas on how to prevent overbooking issues, although it’s doubtful they will be heard.

We have too many people claiming airlines haul people off because of profits.  Yes, that’s a motivation, but not the entire story.  I think it’s laziness on part of management.  Issuing iron-clad rules is easy, especially from a cushy office building.  Writing guidance so that your employees can navigate the difficult situations they face each day is much harder.


This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, United Airlines, American Airlines, or Disney.  I don’t have the training in force choking and hand to hand combat to properly represent any of those organizations.

If you enjoyed Darth Vader as a United Airlines employee, please check out my blog and donate to Da Tech Guy.