A few years ago, I was on a WestJet flight sitting near the front of the plane. The customary round of drinks and snacks had been served and the cabin crew were now in the front galley chatting while they put things away. The flight attendants were complaining about the hand-held credit card terminals and how dysfunctional they were. I remember their complaints seemed valid and I thought, “Why doesn’t WestJet fix this problem?” The griping continued for a while, then the crew went on with their work.
After a few minutes, they sat down and had a break, understandable since it was late and they had already worked several flights that day. Then there was turbulence and we all had to stay in our seats for the rest of the flight.
I, too, had had a long day and I wanted to wind down with a nice glass of red wine. I had ordered the wine before the turbulence, and paid for it after much grief with the credit card terminal. And then the crew forgot all about me! With the turbulence I did not expect to get the wine, but there was no apology for the inconvenience and no offer of a refund. I was too tired to whine about the wine, so I just returned a “good night” to them as I got off the plane. Not a big deal in the big picture, not worth getting stressed about.
The big deal here is the leadership lesson. You can have a great company culture, but that will not make up for messing up the basics. One of the most basic of all the basics is giving your team the right tools, equipment, and materials to do their jobs well. Research shows that if you don’t, you will reduce engagement. In fact, you will be worse off than a company with a poor culture that does make sure that their team has the right tools. We need to do our jobs well in order to be happy, and this need has to be satisfied before we really care too much about the big picture culture.
I have often thought that WestJet has created a culture that makes its position in domestic air travel untouchable by Air Canada, but this experience and a few others reminds me that just having an “owners care” culture is not enough. All leaders need to be constantly vigilant to make sure we do the basics well at all times and not rely on our “great” culture and atmosphere to mask our flaws.