Why the world’s favourite airline doesn’t like passengers

British Airways has always prided itself on its customer service.

Its website tells you that ‘the British Airways experience is more than a flight. For us, it’s about making every single journey special’.

So, when I booked a flight back from Texas to London for last night, I knew I was in safe hands.

I knew there was no way I’d miss the concert I was going to in Oxford tonight.

Well, I suppose there was always a chance the flight could have been spectacularly delayed. Luckily, that didn’t happen. The plane took off bang on time.

The problem is: I wasn’t on it.

I was standing at the gate, watching it leave, because my seat had been allocated to someone else – even though that seat had been booked for over a month and even though they’d checked me in for the flight four hours earlier.

The BA ground crew frowned at the computer screen and pretended to be ‘trying to understand’ what went wrong. Their suggestions varied from ‘you must have booked late’ to ‘there must be a glitch in the system’.

They didn’t really think any of these things was true, of course. They just wanted to keep me and the other unlucky ones quiet until the plane had left.

If you fly regularly, you already know what really happened. BA ‘oversold’ the flight – they sold tickets to more passengers than there were seats on the plane.

This is a fairly common thing for airlines to do, because their data tells them a small percentage of passengers will usually drop out of a flight at the last moment. So, rather than fly their planes with empty seats (which costs them money), they oversell the flights and gamble that the numbers will balance out.

Sometimes (like Thursday night), the gamble doesn’t pay off and they have to figure out what to do with the spare people.

The first thing they can do is upgrade you (no one minds that, right?) But, when there are no empty seats in first class, that doesn’t work.

So the next thing they do is choose some unlucky people (in this case, me) and just don’t let you on the plane. They tell you they’ve got no idea how ‘the system’ got it wrong, but they’ll put you on another flight that will get you there not much later and they’ll give you some money to compensate you.

Only, in this case, the other flight wasn’t working either. Which is why, instead of watching Lauryn Hill in Blenheim Park with my girlfriend on Friday night, I am typing this in a nasty hotel on the outskirts of Austin.

I realise that sounds a bit self-absorbed (‘poor me’), so let me get to the point.

The point is that it doesn’t matter how many times you tell your employees ‘nothing matters more than our customers’, if your processes teach them to screw those customers over and tell them lies when it suits you.

BA stopped calling itself the world’s favourite airline a few years ago.

My advice? You may as well save yourself a bit more money and cut out all that ‘customer experience’ training for your staff.

Trust me: they know it’s bollocks.

People can’t score if they don’t know where the goal is

The American business magazine INC asked executives in 600 companies to estimate how many of their employees would be able to name their company’s top three priorities.

Their average estimate was 64%.

When INC then asked employees in the same companies to name those priorities, only 2% could do it accurately.

It’s a reminder that most businesses are a lot more complex than their leaders realise.

They have too many priorities – and those priorities change frequently and often contradict one another. Which makes it very hard for anyone outside the leadership team to know what they should be focusing on.

Businesses that win are the ones that find a way to simplify the complexity and make it easy for people to know the right thing to do.

This blog is an excerpt from Matt’s new book; tribe: 66 ideas for building a winning culture. The book explores the characteristics that contribute to a winning workplace culture. If you fancy some bedtime reading, you can buy a copy here. Or pop into The Forge and pick one up for free (we might even make you a coffee…)

Never trust anyone without a sense of humour

There’s nothing wrong with being professional, but it’s a good rule to be wary of people who take themselves too seriously.

A sense of humour is just common sense with the volume turned up. That’s why comedians are so good at capturing and expressing simple, timeless, human truths.

Dull, serious people, by contrast, tend to see the world in black-and-white terms. They’re not usually good at grasping alternative viewpoints or engaging with new ideas. You should be especially wary of any leader who won’t poke fun at themselves, because it’s a sign either of insecurity or of a narcissistic personality disorder.

As Eric Sykes put it: ’We are all idiots. The ones who don’t think they’re idiots – they’re the ones who are dangerous.’

This blog is an excerpt from Matt’s new book; tribe: 66 ideas for building a winning culture. The book explores the characteristics that contribute to a winning workplace culture. If you fancy some bedtime reading, you can buy a copy here. Or pop into The Forge and pick one up for free (we might even make you a coffee…)

Winning cultures don’t happen by accident

You can tell a lot about a business by the way it approaches learning and development.

Some don’t bother with structured learning at all: ‘You’ll pick it up from the people around you’.

Some focus on operational imperatives: ‘Learn this process and follow it’.

Some focus on brand experience: ‘This is who we are and how we want our customers to feel’.

And a very rare few focus on the individual: ‘How can we help you be the best version of yourself?’

You won’t be surprised to hear that businesses with winning cultures overwhelmingly adopt the latter two approaches.

Learning and development is not an optional extra. It’s how you articulate and embed your culture. Businesses that embrace it are the ones that win.

This blog is an excerpt from Matt’s new book; tribe: 66 ideas for building a winning culture. The book explores the characteristics that contribute to a winning workplace culture. If you fancy some bedtime reading, you can buy a copy here. Or pop into The Forge and pick one up for free (we might even make you a coffee…)

Nice guys finish first

A positive culture leads to business success. Not the other way around.

This is confusing for some people, who remember a time when it didn’t matter how you won, as long as you won.

When it used to be cool to have signs above your desk saying things like ‘nice guys finish last’ and ‘lunch is for wimps’.

That kind of gung-ho machismo doesn’t work anymore, because the world we live in has become much more transparent.

If you’re only in it for the money, if you cut corners, if you try to con people, they’ll find out sooner or later – and they’ll let the world know.

The only way to be sure of winning is to create an environment where the people who work for you feel happy enough to want to make your customers happy, too.

The future belongs to businesses that behave like humans.

Nice guys finish first now.

This blog is an excerpt from Matt’s new book; tribe: 66 ideas for building a winning culture. The book explores the characteristics that contribute to a winning workplace culture. If you fancy some bedtime reading, you can buy a copy here. Or pop into The Forge and pick one up for free (we might even make you a coffee…)

Trust is a 360-degree thing

There’s a tendency to think of trust in up-down terms. And it’s obviously good if the people in a business know they can trust their employers. But a winning culture is one where everyone in a team knows they can trust everyone else in the team: their leaders, their peers, the people they manage.

If you don’t know the person next to you has got your back, you waste a lot of time and energy looking over your shoulder. Which is why it’s good to create an environment where no-one has to do that.

Where people can work from home without worrying that their colleagues think they’re building a new patio.

Where no-one takes credit for somebody else’s work.

Where people can express an honest opinion in a respectful way without worrying that it will impact their career prospects.

It’s surprisingly hard to build an environment like this. But, if you manage it, the benefits are extraordinary.

This blog is an excerpt from Matt’s new book; tribe: 66 ideas for building a winning culture. The book explores the characteristics that contribute to a winning workplace culture. If you fancy some bedtime reading, you can buy a copy here. Or pop into The Forge and pick one up for free (we might even make you a coffee…)

Information doesn’t filter up very well

There’s an old army story about an officer on the front line who needs to get an important message to his commanders:

‘Send reinforcements; I’m going to advance.’

But the telephone lines have been cut, so the only way to get the message through is to pass it up the line. By the time it gets to headquarters, the urgent message has become:

‘Send three and fourpence; I’m going to a dance.’

It’s almost certainly an apocryphal story, but it makes an important point: the more people a message goes through, the further it’s likely to stray from its real meaning.

Which is why you need to keep the lines of communication from your front-line employees as short as possible. They’re usually best-placed to know what your customers think and how proposed changes will work in reality.

But, if their feedback has to pass through too many layers before it reaches a decision-maker, a lot of its value and meaning will be lost (especially if any of those layers don’t like what it’s saying).

Your job is to make sure the right information flows up as easily as it flows down.

This blog is an excerpt from Matt’s new book; tribe: 66 ideas for building a winning culture. The book explores the characteristics that contribute to a winning workplace culture. If you fancy some bedtime reading, you can buy a copy here. Or pop into The Forge and pick one up for free (we might even make you a coffee…)

Don’t just listen to the bits you want to hear

In the middle ages, kings used to keep a jester (or ‘fool’) to entertain the court. An unofficial, but essential, part of the fool’s role was to offer contradictory opinions.

Not something many of the king’s courtiers would be brave enough to do, since criticism of an absolute monarch was a quick way to lose your head.

But it didn’t matter so much if the fool said it, because the opinion wouldn’t feel like a threat. It could be laughed off as nonsense – and, if it struck a chord, the king could simply adopt it as his own without any loss of face.

The same principle holds true in any business. The higher up an organisation you go, the more important it is to have someone around you who won’t hesitate to speak truth to power.

This blog is an excerpt from Matt’s new book; tribe: 66 ideas for building a winning culture. The book explores the characteristics that contribute to a winning workplace culture. If you fancy some bedtime reading, you can buy a copy here. Or pop into The Forge and pick one up for free (we might even make you a coffee…)

On me ‘ead, son

I’ve never been that bothered about football.

But this article by BBC journalist Guillem Balague about Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa is a fascinating case study in how to go about building a winning culture.

The jury’s still out on whether it will work – at time of writing, Leeds are second in the Championship.

But, if you want to inject some high performance thinking into your organisation, there’s a lot of food for thought right here

 

It’s not about the camera

The word ‘great’ gets used too freely these days. But I don’t think there’s much doubt that Don McCullin is a great photo-journalist.

There’s a retrospective of his work on display in Tate Britain until 6 May. If you haven’t seen it yet, I urge you to go.

The pictures are extraordinarily powerful. As well as the war photography for which he’s best known (Vietnam, Biafra, Cyprus, Northern Ireland), there are poignant, gritty images of life in the industrial Northeast and in London’s East End, where McCullin grew up.

What makes the pictures so powerful is their ability to tell a story. McCullin’s gift is for identifying and capturing small moments that somehow express a much larger truth.

Like the picture above, taken at a protest in Trafalgar Square in the 1960s. Hundreds of photographers were covering the event and they all got plenty of pictures that showed the police and the protesters facing off. But only McCullin got this shot.

That’s partly about being in the right place at the right time, which is certainly one of McCullin’s skills. But it’s mostly about empathy – about being able to look at a scene with the eyes of a human being, rather than the eyes of a technician.

‘I use the camera like I use a toothbrush,’ McCullin once said.  ‘The most important photographic equipment I take on an assignment is my head and my eyes and my heart. I could take the poorest equipment and I would still take the same shots. They might not be as sharp, but they would certainly say the same thing.’

That’s a pretty good definition of how communication works.

You can have the best technology in the world, the coolest graphics, the funkiest presentation – and none of it will make much difference.

Because what really matters is the story.