This blog is based on a short quote which the Financial Times was kind enough to include in “Boeing criticised for not acting faster“.
Boeing appeared to be trying to win the wrong argument.
Having watched the dominoes fall around the world, as successive countries decided to ground the Boeing 737 Max, the US finally followed suit. Two crashes months apart were enough.
Right up until that point, when President Trump and then the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) withdrew support, Boeing had seemed confident that all would be well because the FAA was not at first mandating further action.
But while Boeing had focused on explaining the technical argument, it lost the public, more human, one. Though it was initially supported by the FAA, it could not last.
The popular arguments took hold, among customers, passengers, pilots and governments. All were all fearful. Ultimately, it was that, the human reaction and concern that held sway.
Boeing’s technical reassurances missed the point. It is all very well to be working closely with the FAA to have the flight control software enhancements ready for April. But that did not comfort anyone.
From a reputational point of view, they would have done better to get out ahead and put in some sort of firebreak. To be seen to do the right thing.
Even with an “abundance of caution”, as many others put it, they could have made the decision themselves to ground their planes and lead the investigation to find out and resolve what had gone wrong.
Instead, they have ended up in the same place, with their planes on the ground, but with less credibility and authority.
Handling a crisis well can enhance an organisation’s reputation. They missed that opportunity.
Boeing let the arguments and the agenda get away from them. Instead of shaping events, they were dictated to.
Boeing may be have been making rational choices based on technical evidence they had available, but they were not adequately addressing the public concern.
From now on, they need to be a model of openness in relentlessly exploring what has gone wrong. They need to demonstrate that they have listened to concerns and addressed them.
Because of the accidents, they had a performance issue. Now they have a conduct and performance issue.
They need to be their own harshest critic, in the open, and show that they will do absolutely all that’s necessary to put things right. To fix performance and conduct.
Instead of using legalese to talk about an “abundance of caution” they need to show they are human and talk about what they have learned and what they will do differently.