You’ve all read about United Airlines replacing bonuses with a lottery and trying to tie it to their Core4 mission to become “known as the most caring airline in a highly-competitive industry”. It didn’t go over so well. In fact, it crashed and burned.
The announcement was made public on a Friday, and by the following Tuesday United announced they were “hitting the pause button” on the new rewards program. This, after a petition was signed by over 1000 supporters and the chairman of the union’s United council met with senior executives.
“Our intention was to introduce a better, more exciting program, but we misjudged how these changes would be received by many of you,” United’s president, Scott Kirby, said in a note to employees.
This is a fitting example of the changing world of work and the role HR can and should play in driving talent-first business strategy.
An HBR article highlighted organizations who are making the shift to “agile HR” when it comes to thinking about talent practices, like teams and compensation.
Teams: As more companies organize their work around teams and projects, HR can no longer focus solely on individual performance, goals and desires. There must be a move towards managing teams and team-focused programs.
The move towards teams also impacts decision rights. Bank of Montreal was spotlighted for empowering employees to make decisions as part of a team, vs. the traditional top-down approach. To work with senior leaders who didn’t want to give up control on decision making, they engaged coaches and deployed “retrospectives”. These retrospectives demonstrated the value of team decisions and got senior leaders more comfortable with loosening control over decision making.
Compensation: DigitalOcean redesigned its rewards to ensure equality and promote a culture of collaboration. “To personalize compensation, the firm maps where people are having an impact in their roles and where they need to grow and develop. The data on individuals’ impact on the business is a key factor in discussions about pay. All employees are eligible for bonuses, which are based on company performance…”
United did right by swiftly pulling back on the rewards program once they heard the resounding feedback from the team. In reading some of the comments, it does seem the employees value teamwork and collaboration – and in their eyes, the lottery program didn’t reward those behaviors.
“When I win the $100,000 drawing…I am going to hire some young kid to write my 84,000 teammates each a check for $1.19 and share the reward with those who helped ME win this reward…” – First Officer, B-777
“Way to ‘Unite’…Disappointing to say the least…”- First Officer, B-767/B-757
“We were finally all pulling from the same end of the rope. Let’s fix this now and get back on track.” – Captain, B-737
Agile organizations value feedback from employees to senior leaders and shift when needed. The miss here was (likely) in not asking for the feedback in advance of the roll-out – or not knowing which teams, groups or individuals are the influencers and ensuring their voices were heard.
In fairness, the airline industry is still largely rule-based and for a good reason – safety. That doesn’t mean there can’t be some amount of agility in talent practices, especially when it comes to teams and compensation where you are trying to promote a caring culture.
So, next time you fly the friendly skies, I wouldn’t hand out lotto tickets; just say “thank you”!
Kathy Rapp is the CEO of hrQ where she helps companies find groovy HR Talent for permanent or project roles across the country. Prior to joining hrQ Kathy booked more than 15 years of diverse HR leadership experience working in F500s and start-up organizations. A connoisseur of the intersection between pop culture and business, Kathy believes many talent insights can be gleamed from the succession planning lessons experienced by Van Halen and AC/DC.