12 Ways to Revitalize Your Company

Insights Into Business .

It’s time to leave your old ethics at the door and you know it.  Here are some of my insights and experiences on the most pressing issues in business today—an aging workforce, corporate ethics, dealing with layoffs, building trust with employees, office politics, and much more.


Rule One:

Place the Team’s Interest Before My Own


We were trying to make an important point. We wanted everyone to understand that if their agenda involved back-stabbing for personal advancement, United Airlines was going to pay the price. In that kind of atmosphere, people are distracted from the business at hand by their self-interest.


Rule Two:


Listen Fully and Respect Each Individual


Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But listening fully and with respect isn’t easy, mainly when you are in a room full of Type As who might be more interested in presenting their agendas and advancing their causes.


Rule Three:


Speak with Candor and Honesty


This is the “no bull…” rule.


It tells folks they should not talk unless they know what they are going to say. Don’t waste everyone’s time. Coming from St. Louis, I have my version: Be Midwestern. To my mind, that means being direct and honest.


You must always set the scene, so people understand why they are in the room. Defining some terms—what kind of a meeting it is, for example—helps.


At a unilateral meeting, the context is this: “I’m telling you what I have decided, and I expect everyone to live by it.”


At a consultative meeting, I am going to listen to everyone in the room. We might even take an official vote on a question. And then I am going to decide, based on these consultations.


The third one is collaborative, a fancy term that means we are all equals in this room. On the question at hand, it means we are not going to decide anything until we have a consensus of all the people in the room.


The kind of meeting we are having might not always be clear to everyone, but I have found under our Rules of the Road that people at United ask if they don’t understand. It is not unusual to hear someone pipe up: “Could we get clear what kind of a meeting this is?”


Rule Four:


Include All Who Have a Stake in an Issue


No one should feel shut out of a conversation; I mean a discussion that deals directly with that person’s responsibilities. This one is a hard standard to meet, but you have to work at it. You cannot get a team of people to work toward an objective unless everyone affected has had a chance to give insight and express their views before the decision is made. 


Rule Five:


Provide Complete and Impartial Information


How many times have you gone to a meeting with knowledge in your head only to hold something back? Or how many times have you colored information to send a different message? Or how many times have you left something out that was central to the task? How many times have you gone to a meeting unprepared?


This one says just what it means.


Rule Six:


Define the Objective and Establish a Plan Before Acting


This one is particular to United, because of its history.


In the command and control era, a boss would walk into a meeting and announce, for example, that the airline would be going to electronic ticketing in six months. Everyone would sit up and respond: “I can do that. I can do my part.”


But that wasn’t the case, particularly in this example.


Rule Six means we have to define what we are going to accomplish and we have to deliver a real plan for how we are going to accomplish it, or we are going to modify the plan before we even start.


We were losing business. It took sixty days to fix it, and it was a crazy time for everyone.


Rule Seven:


Reach Closure on Decisions


Pretty obvious, isn’t it. But it doesn’t always happen. Lots of companies, not knowing what to do about a particular issue, will let matters drift by concluding, “We ought to study it more.”


I have told my people, “This is not the Study Company, this is the Decision Company.” We try hard to set deadlines. In the interim, we gather all the facts we can find. But then we move. There are a lot of managers who have developed this study mode to the level of an art form.


I see that as a version of deceit, sometimes self-deceit.


Rule Eight:


Represent the Team’s Decisions As One’s Own


Once a team has come to a decision, everyone must support it.


It simply doesn’t do to have an icing of consensus that melts away when the project, whatever it happens to be, moves into the field. If a bad mistake is made, or an unanticipated event comes along, fine, regroup. Otherwise, implement.


Rule Nine:


Address a Conflict with a Team Member Before Mentioning It to Anyone Else


Rule Nine says if you have a problem with me, then you should come into my office and we will shut the door and battle it out. We can shout and scream. We can do whatever we want. But we have to resolve the problem. And if we can’t, we have to find someone, a facilitator or a referee, to help the two of us sort it out.


It is also aimed at addressing people who avoid conflict.


Avoiding conflict is not healthy in a corporate setting because it lets problems build and fester.


Rule Ten:


Keep My Promises to the Best of My Ability


This one presents an interesting commentary. After a lot of debate and thought, we decided it had to be part of the rules. Of course, you should keep your promises. It is just unfortunate that we still feel the need to write that down and post it where everyone can read it.


Rule Eleven:


Establish a Common Agenda and Mutually Agreed Upon Priorities


We continued to struggle with this issue at United. I wish I could just write down one priority, but it’s not that simple. We would be a Johnny One Note company, concentrating on only one objective.


Sometimes there are three or four top priorities that might conflict with one another. But the goal is to have a commonly accepted list, so everyone is thinking in the same direction. At any given moment, A, B, or C might become more important, depending on circumstances.


The important point is that everyone has to be marching in the same general direction when a challenge presents itself. Creating an agenda and setting priorities helps.


Rule Twelve:


Call a Time-Out When Any of These Pledges Are Violated


We have some people who are very good at this.


When a meeting is drifting, or when the subject matter has become confusing, someone will call a time-out and ask for clarification. Some folks take this quite literally. It is almost as though they are wearing striped shirts and carrying whistles.


The process seems to work the best among senior employees who understand the concept. They will say, “Wait a minute. I am confused. Could we back up and talk about this some more?”


Like my own early philosophy of working hard to get my bosses promoted, the Rules of the Road are simple to state and difficult to carry out. This is a challenge for the folks who run companies.


The tendency for people at the top is not to show enough patience. Somebody might say, “Wait a minute, I’m confused.” But the CEO running the meeting just blows right past them, as though they were not even in the room. That will probably be the last time the CEO hears that person speak up.


Now if these rules are good enough for the military, I’m confident they’re good enough for your company too.  If you are going to embrace these rules, then, they must be taken seriously.


Sometimes, the lesson learning has to start right at the top.