Just about this time last year, then-candidate Barack Obama repopularized the phrase “lipstick on a pig” in a campaign speech in Virginia, in what some thought was a not-so-nice slap at Sarah Palin, who had just referred to lipstick in her VP nomination acceptance speech. I’ve never been an Obama fan, but I don’t think he was guilty of that one.
And while the idiom “putting lipstick on a pig” may or may not have been a good metaphor for whatever it was Obama was talking about at the moment, the expression was coined PRECISELY for the merger of perhaps the two most dissimilar airlines in the U.S. – Delta and Northwest.
I’ve had the occasion to fly a lot of Northwest…er, Delta (I guess…who knows anymore?) flights over the last couple of months. Within 30 seconds of boarding on the “new” Delta, one can tell whether the flight is a “real” Delta flight, or a Northwest flight with lipstick rather haphazardly applied.
Only a small part of the noticeable difference is the equipment, the food (LOL), and the on-board amenities, such as they are.
The most glaring differentiator is the people. The people! At the ticket counter, baggage check-in, gate, and most certainly onboard. In general, those who were hired as Delta employees are more helpful, more friendly, and more professional than their Northwest counterparts. It was always that way before the shotgun wedding. Little has changed.
On a real Delta flight, the pilots usually keep passengers informed about delays. On real Northwest flights, I’m not sure what they’re doing up there while we sit on the tarmac, but they’re certainly not talking to passengers.
One interesting observation – one shared by many others with whom I’ve compared notes – is that Northwest employees, in Delta uniforms, spend about 85% of their onboard time griping to each other about their jobs! That leaves only about 15% of their time to grudgingly take care of whatever annoyance the customer might be foisting on them at any given moment. If Delta employees are griping about their jobs, they’re doing it outside the line of sight of paying customers.
The lesson for us manager type people: with all that we’re doing to try to make the best of a troubled set of business conditions, many of which are caused by factors beyond our control, one area where we CAN make a substantial difference is with the people we put…and keep…on the payroll. And how we treat them once they’re there. Delta has always done a better job in that department than Northwest. It’s time the two companies merged – really merged – and quit operating with two highly disparate sets of standards.
To paraphrase another guy who’s lived in the White House, “It’s your people, stupid!”
And don’t you forget it!
Richard Hadden (twitter at http://twitter.com/rehadden) is a leadership speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations improve their business results by creating a great place to work. He and Bill are the authors of the new book Contented Cows MOOve Faster, as well as the acclaimed business classic Contented Cows Give Better Milk. Learn more about them and their work at ContentedCows.com.