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It Is Not In My Work Description

A couple of months ago I flew to the US with Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) and whilst there I also took some domestic flights within the US. During my return trip to my hometown in Sweden I had an experience that prompted me to think about SAS’s service, and the service that other airlines offer.

The flight was full and as usual there was a lot of carry-on luggage. One passenger had problem finding a space in the over-head luggage compartment which was not helped by the aisle being full of passengers. The flight attendant who was standing further back told him to put the luggage in a compartment right where she was standing. The passenger then asked the flight attendant to help him. He reached for the luggage and lifted it towards the flight attendant. She hesitated, muttered to herself and whoever else was listening and then very reluctantly took the luggage and put it up in the over-head compartment. She then told the passenger that she was not allowed to help him with his luggage and that cabin staff cannot help every passenger lift  luggage up. The passenger apologized and sat down.

I imagine that the union associated with SAS had negotiated that rule for the flight attendants so that they are not jeopardy of getting back pain from lifting a lot of luggage.  I understand the issues arising from those kinds of problems, but I believe that there is something else behind it, that is not just about the health. I believe it is just a symptom of something else.

A comparison between the domestic flights in the US and the flight carrier South West is interesting. I read an article stating that South West has a special system to reduce the time on the ground. All those involved in getting the passengers aboard are working as a team. The team has identified how to manage a very short turnaround time for their aircrafts. The turnaround time is measured from when an aircraft gets to the gate and then until it leaves the gate again. The shorter the time the better for the passengers and the more revenue for the company, as an airline makes money when they fly, not when they are on the ground. Southwest aircraft teams help the passengers get aboard as quickly and safely as possible and it does not matter what role you have during the flight, only that you play your part in the team to get the aircraft into the air.

As we all know there is no perfect justice. In an environment where you have a heritage from a time when you had a monopoly in your market when you did not have to focus too much on the customers, maximize your service or have to keep costs down. The focus could instead go to finding solutions to problems that should not exist, like dividing work between different work groups and to writing detailed work descriptions, rules and regulations.

In an environment where you satisfy the customer and feel the energy created around that, you do not focus on the trivial issues. From a self-interested point of view, it does not matter who is doing what or if someone is doing a little more than someone else. As long as it is in the best interest of the customer, it does not matter, as we all gain from it.

Between now and the next time, ask yourself if you have an environment where you focus more on what is in your work description and measuring justice in the organization, or if you, together with your friends in the business have a clear focus on satisfying the customers? How can you improve that focus even more?

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To you and your organizations excellence.


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