Rules and procedures are good. This is especially true for HVAC businesses. They allow contractors to be sure employees are behaving exactly how they want them to. This includes everything from employee appearance to manners in the home to how to answer the phone.

The hard part is riding the fine line of making sure employees are consistent in their actions while still allowing them to adapt to extenuating circumstances. This is something U.S. Airways has evidently not accomplished.

Army Ranger 1st Sgt. Albert Marie was flying from Portland, Oregon, to Charlotte, North Carolina, for a job interview recently. Not wanting his heavily decorated uniform jacket to wrinkle during the trip, he asked a flight attendant if he could hang it up in the closet.

In probably the first time in history a flight attendant has been rude to a passenger, the flight attendant belligerently told Marie the closet was for first-class passengers only. The reason she gave? You guessed it — it was against company policy.

The employee chose policy over reading the situation and making a common sense decision. A simple mistake, right? Wrong. The incident soon made the national news. With smartphones and social media, the story was quickly being told on Twitter, Facebook, and television.

Now, the airline is trying to dig out of its first-class mistake (get it?). They did everything crisis management public relations folks are paid to do. They attempted to contact Marie to thank him for his service, issued multiple press releases apologizing for the incident, and highlighted how U.S. Airways helps veterans throughout the year.

The airline was quick to point out the attendant’s actions did not “align with its core values.” One would hope that any business’s core value would be empowering employees to make proper decisions after they read each and every situation. This was obviously not the case with U.S. Airways, and they are paying the price.

HVAC Contractors

How would your employees handle a difficult situation? Would they be quick on their feet to make the correct decision or be a slave to company policy?

If you want employees to be able to see a difficult situation and call an audible, it starts with hiring the right individuals. Some people are not comfortable in those situations and need to follow a specific script, a la Ron Burgundy. Those folks are not for you. Let them go to the competition.

Another important aspect is to make sure you are fostering an environment where these types of decisions can take place. It does not matter who you hire — nobody is going to make the correct decision 100 percent of the time. If you doubt that statement, go through your old pictures and see what you were wearing in the 1970s. Sometimes people do not make the best decisions.

If contractors berate employees for making poor decisions, they will likely never think outside the box again. And maybe that is what you want, but you could quickly run into a public relations nightmare like U.S. Airways.

Instead, when you believe an individual has made the wrong decision, thank him or her for trying to do what they felt was in the best interest of the business. Explain the problems with the choice that was made and tell him or her how you believe the situation should be remedied in the future.

It is all about what type of culture you are building and maintaining in your business. Empowered employees will stay at your company longer and will do a better job during their tenure.

Publication date: 10/27/2014

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