JULY 11, 2013
On the Currying Favor twitter account, I posted a link to this Washington Post article about the recent Korean Air (KA) Boeing 777 crash bringing back memories of the KA crash in 1999 outside London, UK. In his 2008 book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell mentioned that in KA cockpits, assistant pilots show extreme deference to the pilot, and that’s a reflection of Korean social norms. The younger and less experienced respect their elders and superiors at all cost. This would not be tolerated in US cockpits.
Larger US carriers may not have many crashes or cockpit communication issues, but before we hop a long distance flight on Smug Airlines*:
US regional airlines do have crashes more frequently, and they are staffed by poorly paid people with exhausting schedules. This issue was brought to light by the Colgan Air Flight 3407 crash in February 2009, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) study that followed. According to a story by ABC’s Lisa Stark, a former Colgan pilot said, “They [Colgan] said safety was priority, a lot…In my experience, however, on a day-to-day basis, being on time and completing the flight was much more important.”
On a wider scope, a lot of employees across many industries are inclined to keep their head down and their mouth shut. As noted by Tracy Mueller’s story in Texas, (the UTA McCombs School of Business Alumni magazine), a management research study revealed 70 percent of 260 people from a variety of industries and job types hesitated to speak up about problems at work or suggest possible improvements to their firm because they feared repercussions. According to his own studies, Ethan Burris, Assistant Professor of Management (UTA-McSoB), found that “employees who speak up and challenge the status quo are viewed as less competent, less dedicated to the organization and more threatening compared to those who support the way things are,” Burris says. “They are also rated as worse performers, and their ideas get less support.” Isn’t that weird? Constructive commentary is usually a sign someone’s paying attention, instead of the cliché of “just doing my job”.
Sure, not everyone is a pilot, and a problem at work isn’t as dire as an impending plane crash. But once any employee has noticed something is wrong, and he/she dared to share that information, having no one listen or try to affect the suggested change can be a morale and motivation** killer. After awhile, the employee can feel more like a minion, not an engaged employee hired to contribute unique, specialized talent.
Why pay thousands of dollars to find people who are a perfect fit, then ignore those people once they’ve joined the ranks? That makes about as much sense as not saying anything when the plane’s about to crash.
*=not a real airline, yet occasionally you meet its frequent fliers.
**=Yes, I linked to Dan Ariely’s Motivation TED talk for the second time on this blog. It’s that good.