A little more than a week after blogging about Facebook’s conspicuously tardy response to the Cambridge Analytica dustup, here I am again making much the same point: Nothing exposes a company’s core values more than a crisis.
Facebook’s young CEO may like to think that the company puts a premium on speed, but that priority was exposed as a lie when it took 100 hours to utter his first words about what could fairly be called the social platform’s most consequential crisis. (If you missed that blog, you can find it here.)
On the heels of that, now comes the 60 Minutes expose on Allegiant Air, which noted that the low-cost airline is 3.5 times more likely to experience an inflight mechanical emergency than any other U.S. carrier. The segment featured interviews with passengers who were convinced their Allegiant flight would be their last (and not by choice), cell phone videos of smoke-filled cabins and chronicles of one episode after another that made you wonder if the late Leslie Nielsen was on board saying, “I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.”
Among the lingering stories was one about an Allegiant captain who was cleared for an emergency landing after reports of smoke in the cabin. Once on the ground, when clearance for an evacuation did not come, the pilot did was he was trained to do – he deployed the emergency chutes so passengers could deplane onto the tarmac. For that decision, Allegiant summarily fired him, noting in the termination letter that he had failed to “preserve the company’s assets.” In other words, the captain had committed the cardinal sin: He had cost the airline money.
At the core of Allegiant’s value proposition is low fares. It flies an aging fleet of planes, and by many accounts appears to cut corners on maintenance, thus enabling it to undercut its competitors’ prices. And yet, that’s not what the company would have us believe. Allegiant did not agree to an on-air interview with 60 Minutes, but instead, served up a written statement from Captain Eric Gust, the airline’s VP of operations, who wrote that he and his colleagues were proud of their “strong safety record,” so proud in fact that they did not see fit to answer Steve Kroft’s questions on air.
In other words, Allegiant deployed the same strategy in responding to the media that it uses whenever one of its planes takes off – sit back and hope it doesn’t crash. (There are those values rearing their heads again.) After the segment aired, the company was back sending out written statements, accusing the program of selective editing.
Compare Allegiant’s crisis response (to the extent you can call it a response) to the recent episode at Starbucks where two black customers were arrested for lingering in the store without buying anything. (They were there for a meeting.) When activists protesting the action began to get media attention, the company went into a full-throated response, firing the store manager and responding forthrightly to media requests. The company’s CEO not only said it was sorry for an action that does not reflect the chain’s core values, but also did one better – he got on a plane to Philadelphia where he arranged to apologize in person for the unfortunate episode. And it wasn’t done: Starbucks announced it was closing 8,000 stores across the country for one day to undertake “racial-bias” training, making a good faith effort to see that such an incident does not happen again.
Why didn’t Allegiant respond as aggressively? Why did the airline not apologize for its lousy track record and promise to undertake a top-to-bottom review of its safety protocols? Why didn’t its CEO see fit to speak human to human to address an issue that should be its paramount concern? The company may yet change its posture, but not likely. It is acting in a way that is consistent with its core values, which begin and end with the bottom line.