The loose seats reportedly found on American Airlines planes are rattling around in my mind. American Airlines is already in bankruptcy, but it looks like more turbulent times are ahead. The two things no business should ever neglect are the customer experience and workplace quality. In the loose seats episode, American messed up both in one highly visible act of neglect.
Much has been written about customer moments of truth or boss-employee interactions that set the tone, but relatively little has been said about employees' physical environment, which is more permanent, harder to alter, and in people's faces constantly. Failing to keep it in tip-top shape is a powerful visual signal to customers, but also to employees.
Maintaining a high-quality physical environment is central to employee motivation and performance. The physical environment surrounds them from the moment they arrive at work to the moment they leave. Everything about it signifies how much the organization cares. One large company that was trying to cut costs let trash accumulate and supplies run out in the rest rooms while peeling paint dotted the walls, thereby reminding people several times a day that their needs came last. To financially-oriented top management, such cuts are prudent. To customers and workers, they are daily insults.
When the going gets tough, the tough should do maintenance.
Maintenance is never as exciting as new investment. Repairing roads and bridges might be necessary, but the very mention of infrastructure provokes yawns. Spending big money to end up with pretty much the same thing afterwards doesn't whip up taxpayer support. It's easier to let things crumble until there's an outcry. This happens in all realms. A friend of mine sells the family house and moves rather than invest in maintenance. She'd rather abandon the old house and buy a new one where at least the money gets her something fresh. Companies are governed by the same impulse when they prefer to make acquisitions rather than refurbish existing business units, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy when the neglected businesses start to under-perform.