It’s been an interesting month. Widely publicized episodes have embarrassed Delta, American, and United Airlines. All seemed to demonstrate how far the passenger has sunk on their priority list, to about the level of human cargo, rather than customers.
Then, Fox News fired Bill O’Reilly after female FNC employees accused him of sexual harassment. Several women had already agreed to multi-million dollar settlements of their cases before the news broke. This was the same behavior that had cost Chairman and founder Roger Ailes his job last year.
So, what do the airlines and Fox News have in common?
Dysfunctional cultures. One of the obligations of a leader is building and maintaining an organizational culture that supports the mission and values of the organization. Good leaders also model and otherwise support the positive behaviors that contribute to a healthy culture. At the same time, they quickly identify and address negative behaviors that threaten or jeopardize that positive culture. That’s apparently not what has happened at the airlines and FNC.
The airline episodes seem to reflect a rules-are-rules, procedure-driven, bureaucratic culture where employees (and leaders) park their common sense and judgment at the door when they come to work. How else do you explain a decision to call in the cops to physically drag a passenger off an airplane because he would not surrender his seat to a dead-heading United employee?
Fox News for its part apparently didn’t make the necessary changes to its culture after last year’s Ailes episode. Imagine the message being heard by their female employees after two sexual harassment disasters in as many years. And imagine how tough it will be to recruit female employees there. Would you want your daughter working in that sort of environment? Naa, me neither. There are too many other good companies with healthy cultures. These cultures uphold and respect the right of women to a workplace free of sexual harassment.
How do you change a culture?
Every organization has a culture. This is true whether its leaders intended the culture or not. Changing a culture is neither quick nor easy. Whether dysfunctional or healthy, they’re built over time. When leaders change them, that also happens over time. It’s a process, and it takes a lot of work. You measure success over years, not months or quarters. Most companies don’t have that kind of patience.
But, what’s the alternative? Well, I think we saw the answer to that question loudly and clearly in the headlines last month.
Oscar Munoz, United’s CEO, spoke of such procedural changes as increasing the amount of compensation that gate employees can offer to passengers denied boarding. That’s just the tip of a much bigger cultural iceberg. Better get busy, Mr. Munoz. You remember what an iceberg did to the supposedly unsinkable Titanic.