You’ve seen the video by now I’m sure—the one of the beaten and bloodied passenger being dragged from the seat of a United Airlines flight.

As a fellow business owner, I’m sure you can agree that there are PR nightmares (see Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad), and then there are full-on PR meltdowns! The United Airlines debacle was definitely the latter—and more specifically, the type that results in huge losses, endless streams of sarcastic memes, and incidents that spread like wildfire online and severely harm your business.

As I watched this gigantic disaster unfold, I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of pre-mortem business analysis United Airlines had in place. After all, I’m sure they didn’t anticipate this sort of result!

united airlines disaster

Pre-Mortem Business Analysis

Before any company enacts a new policy or plan, they should always begin by asking themselves one question, “What is the worst thing that could happen?”

This is essentially the gist of an old technique called Pre-Mortem Analysis (PMA), a method developed by cognitive psychologist Dr Gary Klein to help businesses test out new strategies and identify possible vulnerabilities in their planning. At its core, PMA helps companies to evaluate potential unintended consequences of new procedures and/or policies.

When it comes to United Airlines, their policy is to fly staff to where they need to go, on their own airline. However, problems occur when planes are overbooked and they have to remove passengers from seats they’ve rightfully paid for. Usually, an airline would solve this issue by incentivising people to move (usually by refunding the person and paying for their inconvenience). However, if a passenger refuses to give up their seat despite the incentives…well, this is clearly a scenario United had not planned for! As a result, the airline company is now facing their worst ever PR disaster, and likely millions in lost revenue and lawsuits.

So How Can You Avoid A Similar Disaster?

When putting into place a Pre-Mortem Analysis, consider the following:

  1. Assemble members of your staff who were not involved in developing your new policy/product/procedure and make sure they fully understand what is involved.
  2. Encourage staff to think of all the things that could lead to disaster (let them be creative in their scenarios) and then identify the most probable of these scenarios. Work backwards to pinpoint all the events that have led to this (remember, the devil is in the detail).
  3. Lastly, in light of this investigation, either re-evaluate your procedures or develop contingency plans to ensure these worst case scenarios never become a reality.

Despite what you may think, the chain of events leading to Dr Dao being violently ejected from United Airlines was not the result of employees forgetting procedure—rather, it’s unlikely anyone at United ever anticipated a chain of events such as this!

If only they’d conducted a more comprehensive PMA then there would likely have been less room for surprise and a better contingency plan—saving them millions of dollars (and Dr Dao’s teeth).

Your Staff Don’t Need A Boss – They Need A Leader

It takes a lot of hard work to become a manager, but even more to become a leader.

There’s a saying by Motivational Speaker and Author Brian Tracy: “Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position.”

It’s a powerful statement, because the truth is, management is about more than just directing and managing people. Staff also need someone who will take the time to encourage their strengths and develop their weaknesses; the kind of leadership that makes staff want to work with you to achieve a goal, rather than be pushed to do so.

There’s a great little illustration that’s been doing the rounds on LinkedIn lately; it’s likely you’ve already seen it, but it truly is a powerful reminder of the importance of developing your employees. It takes skill to become the ‘boss’ of a company, but it takes humility, insight and a willingness to work with your staff, to become a great leader.

The difference between a boss or leader

Many times throughout the last decade I’ve been asked about how I motivate my staff, and as I’ve commonly shared, it’s important to show people the value of their work. For example, back when we were in our early years I’d often take the time to just sit down with our sales staff and run them through the process of contacting customers. I did this because I not only wanted them to succeed in their role but to also know that I understood the challenges of their job. After all, when I started SponsoredLinX I was not only the Founder, but also the receptionist and salesperson!.

Anyone can hire just another cog in the machine to get the job done, but do you want robots or motivated employees? Do you want to be the kind of person who barks out orders that fall on deaf ears, or do you want to be a leader?

If you’re struggling to get results from your staff it’s worth taking a look at the bigger picture. You might even want to ask your team (via an anonymous survey) for their true thoughts on the company and what would make them feel more valued. It could be confronting, and maybe even a bit scary…but above all, it’s guaranteed to give you vital feedback on how you can become more than just a boss to your employees.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”  – John Quincy Adams.


Stoked to have won the Brisbane Young Entrepreneur Award!!! #YoungEntrepreneur @BrisBusiness…

About 2 years ago via Twitter Web Client