Posted tagged ‘consequences’

Unintended Consequences, Decisions and Continental Airlines

September 27, 2009

Decisions only scare me when I don’t understand their consequences. If I do, and as long as those consequences are acceptable, I’m fine. That’s why when confronted with a challenging decision, I always try to investigate what could result from it. It’s important to me that I weigh the potential positive and negative consequences.

My recent trip from San Francisco dramatized the importance of doing so.

Continental Airlines prides itself on “flying right.” Their brand is built on attentive service and well-planned departures and arrivals. In fact, in a press release earlier this month, I found this quote — “Continental’s corporate culture is based on treating customers and co-workers with dignity and respect,” said Diedra Fontaine, Continental’s director of diversity and sales development. “Dignity and respect are key principles of our Working Together cornerstone.”

Continental’s recent decision to charge for bags is a terrific example of unintended consequences and illustrates how a set of negative consequences can jeopardize a brand.

Continental, like many airlines, saw this additional baggage charge as a way to increase revenue. Their customers, however, responded by deciding to take more and more of their luggage on the flights so they could avoid the additional fees.

The unintended consequence: With more than 25 people waiting to get on board this plane from San Francisco, the overhead bins were completely filled. The flight attendants at the gate then proceeded to offer free baggage check-in to all those that had yet to board.

Some passengers took the attendants up on their offer and the gate and boarding ramps were transformed into luggage check–in areas. The attendants scrambled to check the luggage at the entry of the plane. This was difficult for them because the physical location made this problematic and most assuredly, assuming they were trained to do so, it was certainly not what these attendants intended to be doing at this time.

Many passengers chose not to check their luggage. They had to stow their bags underneath their seats, resulting in uncomfortable rides for many, many passengers and difficult entries and exits from where they were seated. More passengers also stood in the aisles for portions of the flight simply to stretch their legs.

As to those poor flight attendants…

They were trying to get the flights to take off on-time because that is one of the areas that Continental evidently measures.

Once the plane took off, the flight attendants rudely rushed to pass out the meals. The were frustrated and like most people put in similar situations, they never had the chance to regain their “balance” and they performed their work the way someone would do it if they were upset.

These were the short-term unintended consequences.

The long-term ones, of course, concern the brand and image of Continental.

And if these become tarnished enough, Continental may discover that the revenue that they gained in no way compensated for the customers that they lost.

The Importance of Looking at External Threats and Opportunities

May 17, 2009

My recent forays into the housewares industry and events within my own community have heightened my sensitivity to the importance of looking at our businesses and organizations in the context of the environment within which we operate.

My friends in the housewares industry are very concerned about how their major clients will react to any efforts that they undertake to create new channels for their products and services. Still, the advent of online communities, while representing a unique opportunity, also represents a perilous threat. If the industry ignores the opportunity and someone else chooses to capitalize on it, their businesses may be further imperiled.

Closer to home, my community is experiencing a tuition crisis. The core lifeblood of the community for several generations has been its ability to educate its children about religious and cultural values. The recent economic downturn has accelerated a crisis that has been developing, and been largely ignored, for years. Parents are finding it difficult to pay for this type of education and many, by economic necessity, are choosing to send their children to schools that do not supply this core sustaining educational program. Leadership in identifying and addressing this problem has been conspicuously absent.

What both situations have in common is that there is an external environmental factor that needs to be seriously considered and addressed.

In the case of our housewares friends, failing to act and create that other channel may result in a significant competitor that further erodes their businesses. In the case of the community, failing to act may decrease the connection between the members of the community and their culture and ultimately lead to an unwillingness or lack of desire to support projects that are integral to the community’s growth, simply because the connection to its values has been compromised.

The lesson in external threats and opportunities is that failing to act has as significant a set of consequences as choosing to take action. Decisions and non-decisions have consequences. As long as one is prepared to accept the consequences, any decision is acceptable.

The important thing is to make sure that those consequences are considered before choosing whether to move ahead or whether to pass on an opportunity.


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