Posted tagged ‘Decisions’

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.

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Putting It All Together: Initiatives, Priorities and an Approach

November 3, 2008

Today’s post is the culmination of the “trilogy” of posts (see the “Managing by Priority” and number of Business Initiatives” posts for the first two.) My intention is to provide a working model that allows you to decide which projects should be in the portfolio of projects that you would choose to address.

To accomplish this, I have found it best to apply the classical decision making process with a strategic twist. (To learn more about this approach, you may want to visit the American Management Association site and research their seminars on Strategies for Effective Problem Solving and Decision Making or look at some of Peter Drucker’s books and particularly The Practice of Management)

Here’s the model we will use:

  1. Prework: Understand and agree on the problem / opportunity. This is really one of the most critical steps. Often decisions are made incorrectly simply because the “wrong” problem or opportunity is defined. I consider it wise to add a strategic filter to any discussion. Put more simply, the problem or opportunity has to be supportive or related to one of our strategic goals.
  2. Define the Objectives: Establish the outcome of the process. This is a further refinement of the defined problem or opportunity. It speaks broadly to the attributes of a successful decision. Performing this step allows us to assess the decision that we make is in the context of a specific outcome. If it allows us to meet the outcome that we were aiming at, the decision is probably a good one. This can be quickly accomplished by merging perspectives into a brief written statement regarding the desired outcome.
  3. Establish Criteria: Establish boundaries within which the decision must fall. This is yet another level of refinement of the objectives. I like to execute this step before we discuss tactical options. This is because it is not uncommon for the people in the room to be biased toward a particular tactic(s). By establishing criteria first, the group tends to offer more objective factors or conditions by which the options will later be evaluated. Examples of criteria might be ROI, availability of resources, committed executive sponsorship or complexity.
  4. Generate Alternatives: At this stage we are ready to list all of the tactical options. An effective facilitator should be careful not to edit out options or pre-judge them. To enable buy-in, everyone must be heard and the process must have integrity.
  5. Evaluate / Analyze Alternatives: With our choices in front of us and criteria establish by which we may evaluate them, the group is well positioned to determine which projects are the most appropriate ones to be addressed. I do counsel the group to create a portfolio of short-, medium- and long-term projects as well as allowing some room to handle emergencies.
  6. Make the Decision: This is the final stage. At this point the group reaches alignment. (The choice of the word “alignment” is by design. It is a more apt word to me than “consensus.” In many situations the group does not fully agree but they can “get behind” the decision and agree to move forward with it as the plan for the organization.)

Once all of this has been accomplished, there is typically one of two steps that must take place. Either the group must obtain approval from someone else or it can begin implementation planning. Each of these processes has very defined steps to success and I hope to discuss them in a future post.


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