Sep 282012
oliver cromwell sets a bad example for modern managers

The sad story of the passing of Bea, the Golden Retriever who died while in the care of United Airlines portrays a fundamental problem in many organisations’ managements – the rule of fear by middle managers.

A telling part of Bea’s sad tale is how her owner Maggie Rizer was treated when she went to collect her two dogs from United,

When we arrived in San Francisco to pick up our dogs we drove to the dark cargo terminal and on arrival in the hanger were told simply, “one of them is dead” by the emotionless worker who seemed more interested in his text messages.  It took thirty minutes for a supervisor to come to tell us, “it was the two year old.”  Subsequently we requested that our dog be returned to us and were told that she had been delivered to a local vet for an autopsy. Whatever thread of trust remained between us and United broke and we then insisted that she be returned to us for our own autopsy by our trusted veterinarian, Shann Ikezawa, DVM from Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center. Over the next two hours the supervisor’s lie unraveled as it became clear that Bea was right behind a closed door the whole time and he had been discussing how to handle the potential liability with his boss who had left and sticking to the divert and stall tactic that they had been taught. Eventually Bea was returned and we drove her to the vet at midnight.

The ‘divert and stall’ tactic took over two hours for Maggie and her partner to get around.

When I recently flew United I saw a similar attitude from the cabin crew, their lack of initiative and beaten attitude was noticeable. As I said in the post;

Overall the cabin crew seem tired and beaten, while they aren’t rude or unpleasant one wonders if they have all received too many stern memos from management about being friendly to customers.

Those stern memos have a corrosive effect on a business where every employee worries more about being sanctioned for breaking a rule or directive rather than helping customers.

Eventually the entire organisation becomes risk adverse and focused on protecting staff, or management’s, interests rather than looking after those of customers, shareholders or taxpayers.

Too many organisations are like this, where the staff are motivated by staying out of trouble rather than helping and adding value to their customers.

Making staff fear you is one way to run a company, or a nation, but ultimately those who are scared of the leaders lose all initiative and the empire collapses because every decision has to be sent to head office as the minions are scared to do anything that will be bring the Imperial Displeasure down upon their hapless heads.

From ancient Rome to the Soviet Union empires have fallen because of this, in today’s private sector companies that run on fear are ultimately doomed, including the ones who can tap into government subsidies to kick the can down the road. Even public sector agencies where this attitude reigns will change when the chill winds of austerity blow through their corridors.

One staff member taking a little bit of initiative probably would have saved Bea the golden retriever. One supervisor taking responsibility and helping Maggie Rizer would have avoided the PR disaster United now have.

In an economy that’s radically changing, inflexibility and slow decision making are possibly the worst possible traits an organisation can have. It’s time for dictatorial managers, along with control freak politicians and their public service directors, to let the reigns go on their staff.

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