By now everyone knows what United Airlines did last week. But most people don’t know why. Oh sure, there’s been a lot of talk on algorithms and overbooking, but the real reason is plain and simple. United’s CEO lives in values fantasyland.
Last week, when a ticketed passenger was violently removed from a plane, it looked like United must clearly have a culture of “nobody cares about passengers.” Otherwise, this incident could never have happened. But wait—on its website, United claims one of its core values is that it is “warm and welcoming.” And another is that they, “make decisions with facts and empathy.” Huh?
This is just another example of a company that has what I call “bumper sticker” values. “Bumper sticker” values look good in an annual report. “Bumper sticker” values make the CEO feel warm and fuzzy. United isn’t the only company that lives in values fantasyland. Wells Fargo is another example. They claim they “do what’s right for the customer,” yet in practice, they defrauded customers. Uber claims it is an inclusive company—yet it appears to have a toxic culture.
The CEO is often unaware of the disconnect between the “bumper sticker” values and the real values of the company, and often doesn’t recognize that until a crisis occurs. When a crisis does occur, the CEO is oftentimes asked to step down, and in most cases, they should. It is the CEO’s job to create a positive culture, not to defend a toxic one.
But that is just what Oscar Muñoz did earlier this week. His initial response was to defend his employees. Do you know why? Because he believed the “bumper sticker” that the United culture is “warm and welcoming.” Since he believed his employees are always “warm and welcoming,” of course he would conclude that the passenger was in the wrong: a perfect example of a CEO living in values fantasyland....
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