Boeing’s widening woes are a warning to every communicator tasked with creating or sharing company purpose.
The headline in today’s New York Times says it all: Cascading Crisis Reveals ‘Sick’ Culture at Boeing. Recently revealed internal documents show employees regularly cutting corners, dissing one another and insulting customers, feeling remorse for having deluded regulators and, above all, obsessing about meeting deadlines and budgets.
“Would you put your family on a Max simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t,” mused one employee according to the Times.
This reality stands in stark contrast to the soaring imagination of Boeing’s corporate purpose.
The company’s website promotes a robust collection of principles, purpose, mission, aspiration, strategy, goals, values, and ends with an imperative, as if it ordered the platinum level of PR gibberish from its consultants.
The ideals and word are all “right” even as today’s revelations show that they were all “wrong,” and not just because every company (like every individual) fails to live up fully to expectations.
Its purpose was to make money at all costs, literally, and the culture was attuned to that directive not just in spite of all the other language, but to its exclusion. The fired CEO who led this fiasco will receive $60 million, also according to the Times.
Setting corporate purpose isn’t a communications exercise and no amount of repeating the themes suggested by market research can make it true: there has to be a tangible, operational infrastructure that supports and encourages employees to realize it.
Roadblocks to doing it need to be identified and brought out into the open, and then changes — organizational, technical, whatever — need to be made to remove them. Employees who embrace the purpose despite pushback from roadblocks that may have remained unidentified (or were too difficult or painful to face) must have protections for their jobs if not overt rewards for their fortitude.
I can imagine some metric that contrasts declarations of corporate purpose with those operational systems, and the resulting delta being the real measure of a company’s integrity and reliable value. Skip counting how many stakeholders are exposed to the vaunting language, or taking surveys of whether or not they’ve been hoodwinked.
Corporate purpose is measured within, not without. Had anybody applied this approach to Boeing, we may have had advance warning of the risks of its activities.
Let Boeing be a warning to corporate communicators: Your job isn’t to create the happyspeak that your executives want, but rather to challenge the organization to translate it into real and reliable corporate strategy that those leaders may not be willing, at least initially, to endorse.
If you don’t do that hard work, the market will.