I watched the news conference with the Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg and could not help to be drawn to the fact that these tragic events are right on topic with the concept of a Corporately held Emotional Quotient (ChEQ). At the shareholder meeting there were calls for his resignation and I can understand why. One of the reported goals of the meeting was to re-build trust but the shareholder meeting and the actions of the company in general show a large lack of Relationship Awareness.
Relationship Awareness in a company is knowing how you are perceived, objectively and honestly. With this knowledge a firm can manage those relationships (Relationship Management). Those two components are half of Corporate held Emotional Intelligence ChEI.
The Boeing response to the tragedy started bad. The second accident coincided with a course I was taking, and the subject of that week was crisis management. We had a room with about 21 members of various boards and the question was asked; What would you do if you were on the board of Boeing? It was clear: Singapore and Australia had just grounded its fleet of the trouble 737 Max 8’s so the only emotionally intelligent thing that Boeing could do was to voluntarily ground the fleet before all the governments did it for them. They needed to be on the front foot. It wasn’t hindsight for us at the time, but it is hindsight now.
Being relationship-aware means having empathy. From that week in March to now, Boeing had another chance to get it right and missed the mark again, but to explain, first let me make references to social media. The world and the world of marketing has changed. The public does not trust marketing and are cynical of anything remotely smelling of dishonesty, enter social media. Forty years ago, I was driving around town with my grandfather who stopped in a local bakery for a loaf of bread. By the time we had that loaf of bread at his home he was incessant about the fact that those cheapskates are just trying to save money, that the loaf did not weigh anything at all. But who could he tell? Trust me he was going to tell anyone that would listen, and all my brothers and sisters now think of bread in terms of weight. Today he could have gotten onto Facebook and Twitter and it could mean that thousands of people would know about that “damn” bakery.
Social media has now allowed a person, company or brand to connect with thousands of people who would otherwise be total strangers. As with advertising there is great deal of cynicism for anyone on social media who is not genuine or honest. It does not matter if the honesty is crude, rude or ugly in some manner. Gary Vaynerchuk is a social media sensation who seems to be in a contest with Gordan Ramsey for the most regular use of foul language. People don’t turn Gary Vee off because Gary Vee is being true to himself. Social media works when the messages are consistent, genuine and authentic and the greater public can sense this. Social media makes a connection with stranger when it is honest.
Boeing does not appear to have the honesty that is a pre-requisite of genuinely connecting with the public. It proved this when it sent its CEO out with coached responses that anyone could see through. When asked if had he consider resigning his next words were: “the important thing here again is we are focused on safety.” The trust was not being built when he responded the pilots were not “completely” following procedures. The responses and statements came across more as answers defined to defend a lawsuit that to build trust. Boeing is going to pay damages at the end of those lawsuits and those damages are going to be in terms of dollars. What Boeing does not want to pay is damages in terms of trust lost. They should have cut and ran with regard to mitigating financial damage so that they had the trust to support the Purpose and financial goals of the company.
If Boeing wishes to rebuild trust it will have to determine how it will raise its emotional intelligence as a firm.