JetBlue hit major turbulence in 2007, when an enormous ice storm forced flight cancellations across the East Coast. Surely the airline couldn’t be blamed for this “act of God,” right? Wrong. While its competitors canceled flights promptly so their customers could wait out the delay comfortably at home, JetBlue dragged its feet. This resulted in passengers sitting on the tarmac for hours and snarled operations that lasted nearly a week. What came after was a tsunami of customer outrage.
Until then, everything had flown pretty smoothly for the airline. But this issue pushed the carrier to the brink of disaster in a moment. Fortunately, CEO David Neeleman had good instincts. He went on television to apologize, compensated inconvenienced fliers, and navigated his company away from long-term problems.
While you might have an airtight financial plan in place and know exactly what your projected income will be for the next four quarters, you’re not in the clear. At any moment, you could face challenges that crop up unexpectedly. These could threaten your credibility, time management skills, ability to pivot, communications chops, and industry expertise.
No, you can’t anticipate every eventuality. However, you can take a few steps to ensure you and your brand will have a fighting chance when the stars get out of alignment.
1. Establish a recognizable corporate culture.
You wouldn’t dream of becoming a Virgin employee if Richard Branson’s brashness didn’t resonate with you. And you’d never apply for a Tesla position unless Elon Musk’s almost reckless innovation was your style. These leaders set the tone for their brands by just being themselves. You should be ready to follow suit — in your own style — because developing a known culture boosts internal and external loyalty.
Certainly, everyone on the payroll contributes to your company’s culturally accepted behaviors and mores. Yet you and a few culture cheerleaders make clear what’s acceptable and what isn’t. For instance, if you go out of your way to communicate and give feedback, you’re telling people that’s what you value. If you resist change or are stingy with rewards, you can be sure your team members will mirror those habits. To help solidify your company’s culture, articulate your purpose. Once you’ve described the “why” behind your operation, using common language to discuss that “why” will unite your team behind your mission.
2. Measure diversity by more than quotas.
Research has shown the value of having a diverse workforce. In fact, McKinsey research found that C-suite diversity was linked to higher profitability. Yet diversity and inclusion don’t result from checking boxes. To start, expand your recruitment reach by partnering with schools and colleges that serve minority students. This will improve the diversity of candidates making their way into your pipeline. Then, re-examine your hiring process for those already in your pipeline.
Candice Morgan, chief diversity officer of Pinterest, says her company ensures that every leadership interview round includes one woman and a person from an underrepresented group. This helps the social media platform level the playing field. But keep in mind that having diverse candidates doesn’t automatically make for an inclusive culture. When looking to improve diversity, focus on the employee experience in addition to your talent pipeline. Make changes that take into account the comfort level of all employees (e.g., gender-neutral bathrooms), placing emphasis on minorities and marginalized groups. Provide the training and mentorship each person needs to become a full — and fully embraced — participant in his or her department.
3. Keep your eyes on a visionary horizon.
You need to have a sense of who you are and where you’re going before you can truly inspire your team to do amazing things. To start, set your insecurities aside and measure your ability and success by your vision, not your experience. “Surrounding yourself with out-of-the-box thinkers has a way of enhancing your vision,” explains Michael Cammarata, founder of Random Occurrence, a venture capital and private equity firm. “While you may have a few of these creative minds on staff, empower all employees — especially key talent — to start thinking outside of the box.”
The metaphorical “box” here has walls made of closed-mindedness and faultfinding. In order for your team to think outside the box, you must replace those behaviors with open-mindedness and an inclination to solve problems rather than complain about them. To accomplish this, instill a sense of ownership and accountability in your team. An important step will be working with each person on your team to develop individual, measurable goals that align with or impact the company’s goals.
No business is too big — or important — to fail. And you won’t be able to predict when significant challenges will strike, leading you to the edge of failure. But if you focus on strengthening your culture, fostering diversity and inclusion, and maintaining a focus on your long-term vision, you’ll fortify your company for those moments that have the power to make or break your brand.