Following the introduction of a Next-Gen Airbus in 2010, Boeing reportedly rushed production of the 737 Max 8, a more powerful and fuel-efficient upgrade of the existing 737, without providing ANY flight simulation training to unaware pilots soon to be situated in the cockpits of the new plane. Boeing, if the implications are borne out, knowingly sent unsuspecting pilots, flight crews and passengers to their deaths.
In fact, according to this New York Times piece, flight training on the 737 Max 8 won’t even be available until 2020 at the earliest (assuming the plane is eventually cleared to fly again).
While it’s obvious why the world’s press is fixating on what Boeing knew and when they knew it, I couldn’t help but think what it must it be like to be one of the Boeing rank-and-file who, until the two recent air disasters, felt justifiably proud of their corporation’s mastery of the skies. Seeking insight, I turned the Repman flight controls over to Ann Barlow, president of Peppercomm’s West Coast office, resident employee engagement expert and, ironically, a one-time baggage handler for People’s Express.
Here’s our exchange:
1.) If you were Boeing’s chief human resources officer (CHRO), what would you being doing right now?
Let me say first that we are feeling for Boeing employees, knowing that this must be a difficult time. I also believe their CHRO is a highly experienced and accomplished professional who’s spent much of her career in aviation.
But if I were in her shoes, I would want to ensure a few things:
- A commitment by senior leadership to be open, humble and empathetic with employees. Legal will understandably want to tightly control what is shared, but demonstrating a reasonable amount of transparency and humility could keep talented employees from heading for the exits.
- That managers create time and space for employees to talk with one another about what happened and how they are feeling. That means carving time out of regularly scheduled meetings, or providing extra break-times, to allow people to connect in person and via video.
- Use more formal channels to share information and inspiration from leadership – town halls, internal social media and other platforms, plant meetings, etc.
- That we offer employees guidance on what to say to friends and neighbors when asked about the accidents and the aircrafts’ safety.
- Keep pulse-checking with employees to understand what they know, think and feel.
2.) How concerned would you be about retaining your current talent and, critically, continuing to attract the best and brightest engineers, designers and scientists from the top colleges and universities? What steps would you take right now to assure neither occurs?
It depends whether leaders are open and humble, especially when it comes to making necessary changes. If they aren’t, I’d be worried about turnover across the board, not just among the most elite talent. I wouldn’t relish the prospect of attracting new talent, either. And I’d know how hard it would be to motivate employees still on the job.
3) How would you arm Boeing’s employees to deal with questions from families and friends alike who ask how they could possibly work for a company that allowed a flawed jet to stay in use?
Employees probably won’t feel like wearing their Boeing-branded hoodies and caps in public. It’s only natural, however, that they get questions from their circle of friends and family. If armed with both facts and guidelines, employees can at least feel more confident answering questions. And while their job isn’t to rehabilitate the company’s image, properly equipped employees can actually help convey information and rebuild some goodwill.
There you have it. So how would you answer my three questions if you, and not Ms. Barlow, were Boeing’s CHRO?