Tag archive for "Delta Air Lines"

by Richard, Think About It...

Lipstick on a pig that flies

No Comments 25 August 2009

lipstick on a pigJust 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.

by Bill, Leadership, Management, Think About It...

A Crisis of Trust

No Comments 20 July 2009

Within the next year, it seems likely that three things will happen, each of which will put added pressure on employers. In likely order of occurrence they are:

Health care legislation – The odds are that some kind of health care bill will soon be signed into law. While this is generally a good thing, the devil they say is in the details. Regardless, it seems quite likely that health insurance in some form will be made available to all (most), without prejudice on the basis of pre-existing conditions. One of the unintended consequences of this is that lots of people, millions perhaps, who have stayed in jobs they really don’t like because of the difficulty in replacing their health coverage will bolt for greener pastures when that is remedied.

Economic improvement – By even the most pessimistic of projections, the current recession should wind down sometime in the next year. Here again, as conditions change, a lot of workers who have been biding their time (and biting their tongues) will find it considerably easier to move on to greener pastures.

“EFCA lite” – Though it now appears that the so called “Employee Free Choice Act”  legislation will not be passed in its current configuration, my bet is that congress will succumb to pressure and give unions something that makes the organizing process considerably easier, a change that is justifiably not especially welcomed by the business community.

Taken together or independently, the message for employers couldn’t be clearer. Despite the fact that we currently enjoy an “employer’s market”, we would do well to take steps now to preserve, and where possible enhance our reputations as leaders, employers, and business people. How?

A great place, no, a necessary place to start is in taking steps to rekindle trust in ourselves and our organizations. In our recently completed “Post-AIG Leadership Survey” 95% of the 286 mostly management level respondents indicated that rebuilding trust (internally and externally) is a Significant/Very Significant factor in successfully emerging from the current business and economic crisis.

If nothing else, leadership is the earned consent of followers, consent that begins with the trust that, as leaders, we are who we say we are, and that even in the absence of guidelines, we will do what is right. Make no mistake, that faith has been broken, not bent, and either by our own actions or by presumed association, our institutions and leaders, each of us, has to some degree been painted with the same brush of suspicion.

The implication for those of us who would lead others is that we must re-earn that trust, and in a larger sense, re-qualify for duty. It doesn’t matter whether you were busily approving bushels of crazy, shady loans at Countrywide, or diligently minding your p’s and q’s as an honest, hard working floor manager at Claim Jumper Restaurants, or a Delta Air Lines in-flight leader. We all bear the burden. As Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo put it recently, “Corporate America, after the immediate financial crisis, has now found itself thrown into a far more corrosive and durable crisis – a crisis of trust. The victims of recession may not differentiate between guilty and innocent parties – everyone in corporate America could take a share of the blame, deserved or not.”

Let’s get going!


A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

by Bill, Management

Effective Business Integration is More Than Just a Paint Job

No Comments 17 May 2009

Upon returning from a trip to the Florida Keys Saturday, I saw a bright, shiny, freshly painted Delta Air Lines 747-400 jet parked at the adjacent gate as we pulled into Terminal E at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. In all likelihood, the plane recently bore the markings of Northwest Airlines, now in the process of integrating with Delta.

To their credit, the folks at Delta and the 25 or so “integration teams” responsible for planning and managing the execution of the merger (‘er acquisition) are moving with purpose and pace, and for the most part seem to be getting it right. Our flights this week were all unremarkable, on-time, and checked luggage showed up as expected.

Airlines are big, complex organizations with lots of critical moving parts and though many have tried, you  can’t simply slap a new coat of paint on a few airplanes, hang up some fresh signs, and call it quits. Just ask a few folks who regularly fly US Airways. Though Delta and Northwest are still operating as separate carriers, it is clear that there will be a day sometime in the next year or so when there is only one entity.

One aspect of the Delta-Northwest integration, and for that matter most business mergers that lags, however, is the integration of different (vastly different in this case) organizational cultures. While Atlanta-based Delta is known for hospitality and manners, Northwest excelled at other things, to put it charitably.

Though they may be wearing new uniforms, too many of the new Delta folks are still wearing Northwest attitudes. Just as there continues to be a struggle within the combined group about whether or not various employees will be represented by a labor union (I hope not), employees are figuring out what the new standards are for performance and behavior. It all pretty much reverts to the old “barrel of apples” axiom, and management must take pains to quickly assert its will before the wrong group of apples reaches critical mass. I don’t know where it is on the transition checklist, but this is one of the things that can’t wait. If management convincingly establishes smiling faces and polite, professional exchanges with customers (and others) as the norm for the new organization and models that behavior, it will come to pass. If they don’t, well, you know what they say about the barrel of apples.

A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com

by Bill, Leadership, Management

Temper, Temper… Use it, Don't Lose It

No Comments 26 April 2009

In a well-written piece by Adam Bryant in today’s NY Times (He Wants Subjects, Verbs and Objects),  Delta Air Lines CEO, Richard Anderson, in response to a question about the most important leadership lesson he has learned said, “I’ve learned to be patient and not lose my temper. And the reason that’s important is everything you do is an example, and people look at everything you do and take a signal from everything you do. And when you lose your temper, it really squelches debate and sends the wrong signal about how you want your organization to run. And it was a good lesson. It was a long time ago. And I had a C.E.O. who I was very close to, and he just took me aside and gave me a really short instruction about it. And it was a really important instruction.”

I agree with Mr. Anderson, to a point. While it’s important, no imperative that a leader not lose his or her temper, as in fly uncontrollably off the handle, there is a place in a leader’s repertoire for constructively using their temper. Frankly, it’s good for leaders to occasionally get a little lathered up about something that is important to them and the organization, and it’s just as good for followers to be reminded that some things matter more than others. Indeed, President Obama would do well to borrow this lesson from President Reagan, whose leadership style he mirrors in more ways than some care to think about.

Obviously the constructive use of temper in the workplace, or anywhere else for that matter, needs some boundaries, like:

1. It should be infrequent. Going ballistic on a daily basis is a sign of poor self control and immaturity. Moreover, after about 3 such episodes in a short period, it loses its effect, and the manager loses any respect they might have once enjoyed.

2. It should be deliberate and controlled. There is a huge difference between a calculated, premeditated rant and just popping off until you feel better or get tired. Obscenities and lots of extra volume are unnecessary and usually counterproductive.

3. It should be brief. Staying pissed off for a week does no one any good.

4. Beware and take steps to remedy collateral damage. Sometimes, even the best controlled tantrums have what professional painters refer to as “over-spray.” If a person is accidently “sprayed”, make it a point to quickly and genuinely apologize.

A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com


Considered thought leaders in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden speak to, train, and coach managers on leadership practices for better business outcomes.

OUR PREMISE: Having a focused, engaged, and capably led workforce is one of the best things any organization can do for its bottom line.


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