United and You: Beyond the Meme

The internets were a wonderful place last week. With United Airlines staffers messing up in a grandiose way, true artists leaned in on the movie Airplane to create quality social media fodder. 

We're almost forced to laugh, aren't we? Dragging a paying customer off an airplane is so unbelievable that you'd question their ability to stay in business. You might be surprised, however, that the day after the story went viral, the stock actually traded at a one month high (yes, before dropping again). So even in this major PR crisis is don't bet against United. They're in an industry with limited (and highly regulated) competition, and even though people talk a big game, they're still going to choose price when it comes to air travel. United will promise changes, drop some fares, and weather the controversy just fine.

So if their corporation won't suffer long-term repercussions from this snafu, we might as well co-opt it as a teachable moment. Few of us have a job or a business as insulated as the airline industry. Instead of obsessing over holding a monolith accountable, maybe we should scrutinize how WE can be more un-United.

When those dudes drug that doctor off the plane, do you think they had any idea that it would define their professional careers and their lives? Of course not. In fact, they were just doing what they were told to do, ordered by other people who also had S.O.P.'s telling them what to do. In the end, everyone was just doing their job . . . or what they perceived was their job. 

And that's the problem for the majority of us: we misunderstand the foundational principle of our employment. Regardless of what your industry is, your job is people. Get this wrong and you may achieve some level of success, but eventually you'll fail. 

You're likely racking your brain right now, trying to think of a job that doesn't involve people but you'll be hard pressed to do so. Even the best veterinarian in the business needs to work on her human interaction to maximize success. In this era that keeps many of us toiling behind a keyboard for hours a day, we forget that our most precious work is interaction with human beings. Whether it's your customer or your colleague, you have to manage those relationships. 

There were many failings behind the United fiasco, the chief among them is an organizational culture views customers as mere numbers in an equation. So rather than rendering that Raging Bull meme, use the time to consider how you can treat those around you with the dignity they deserve.