Show Me the Values!

Two weeks ago I was sitting on the runway in Orlando as my homeward-bound Jet Blue flight was about to taxi toward takeoff. Like just about every other flight that hadn't already been canceled that day on the Eastern seaboard, ours was a couple of hours late departing. The lead flight attendant gets on the P.A. system and says something very close to:

"Ladies and Gentlemen, we know we're late taking off, and even though it's the weather and not something we caused, we're going to comp everybody's movies for this flight. We know you've all had a long day and we want it to end with something nice and relaxing. And for those of you who were supposed to be on the Continental flight and ended up here, we don't ever want you to go back."

The mood on the flight -- which could have been a rather dreary late evening affair -- took an immediate upswing. People joked and smiled and made eye contact. They were noticeably brighter and more calm as the flight progressed. And I'm writing about the experience today and several thousand business travelers are reading about it. So what happened? What enabled this relatively small act of kindness and allowed it to become a major brand statement? Midflight, I went to the back of the plane and asked. I wanted to know the policy that allowed a flight attendant to make such a call.

"We're allowed to make almost any decision," the flight attendant explained, "as long as we can justify it on the basis of one of the airline's five core values: Safety, Caring, Integrity, Fun or Passion. If we can tie doing something back to one of these principles, the decision is going to be supported by the company." Now this not to say the John the flight attendant can spend his whole career comping movies or giving passengers free cocktails ("If I did it every flight, they'd probably sit me down and ask me why") but the company is nonetheless sending him a powerful message: "If you act in support of the values that really matter to our business, we want you to take risks in order to delight and care for our customers."

Wow. Such a simple concept really. But how many of us put such a thing into practice with our own sales and support people. We'll spend days each month focusing on yield and sell-through and effective CPM and did we charge enough? or did we charge too much? But when is the last time we had a conversation with our front line sales and service people and deputized them to embody our values with their customers?

Don't leave it up to HR or marketing to blend your values into some kind of a corporate-speak smoothie. Sit down today with your sellers and do what Jet Blue did: create a culture of delight by empowering your own people with the values that your business is built on.