Boeing: When Profits trump People
The latest news from Boeing exposes just how tragic a culture of winning at all costs can lead to the downfall of a once-revered organization.
While, on the outside, Boeing continued to present a vision and mission of innovative excellence and commitment to quality, their internal strategy and leadership was something very different, indeed.
"I don't know how to fix these things...it's systematic. It's culture."Boeing Employee email from June 2018
As the Washington Post's publishing of the internal communications exposes, the cultural toxicity of Boeing's workforce ran wide and deep. A May 2018 email stated, "Time and time again, we are inundated with Boeing material specifying that quality is key - this clearly is not the case or driving factor in any of the decisions that are made."
Another from June 2018 highlighted breakdowns in accountability and a fear of getting placed 'on a list', "We managers were told names were being taken by senior leadership....missing schedule was more important....the voting list is full of people voting for their self interests...I don't know how to fix these things...it's systematic. It's culture. It's the fact we have a senior leadership team that understand very little about the business and yet are driving us to certain objectives It's lots of individual groups that aren't working closely and being accountable."
Ironically, they have a whole section on their website highlighting their Principles; yet, I found very little that actually talked about anything I would consider one...
"...we are under budget, we should hire a yacht [and] sail around Miami harbour to celebrate..." - Boeing Employee communication, February 2019
In reading what they state is the 'Boeing Vision', it's clear that value (and not the intrinsic kind) is what's most important to them, with goals like "Top-quartile Performance and Returns" and "Market Leadership" being their primary objectives. This, in and of itself, provides a clear window into how they ended up where they are today. It's said you get the behavior and results you reward. In the case of Boeing, saving money (or, rather, 'Deliver Superior Value') was at the top of theirs.
Now, I'm not saying being cost-effective and fiscally-responsible are not acceptable objectives. But when you pursue those goals at the sacrifice of customer safety and client satisfaction, you're going to end up with a workforce who either disregards those important measures, or who feels morally corrupted and disengages. Either way, you will have significantly diminished attention to quality, accountability, trust, and integrity.
"I'm fed up with the meetings that include countless managers who have no understanding...Everybody is investing more time in blaming others than actually fixing the problem" - Boeing Employee communication, March 2018
What's 'above the fold' is what gets read, and all the money stuff is first, front, and center. Sure, they mention 'Best Team, Talent and Leaders and Top Corporate Citizen' in their 2025 Goals, but those are at the bottom of the list. Case in point, a message from March 2018, "I'm fed up with the meetings that include countless managers who have no understanding...Everybody is investing more time in blaming others than actually fixing the problem".
"Our arrogance is our demise"
Boeing's reputation is now forever tarnished, with clients questioning and even out-right refusing to do business with them in the future. Where does this leave Boeing? How can they repair the damage they have created?
"Sometimes you have to let things fail big so that everyone can identify a problem...maybe that's what needs to happen rather than just continuing to scrape by." - June 2018 Boeing employee email
At the end of one June 2018 email, an exasperated and burned out employee proclaimed, "Sometimes you have to let things fail big so that everyone can identify a problem...maybe that's what needs to happen rather than just continuing to scrape by."
Is that a risk you're willing (or able) to take in your organization? An epic meltdown of your company, its systems, operations, and stakeholders?
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