It’s impossible to have avoided the corporate crisis that dominated business in 2019: The Boeing 737 MAX.
When things go wrong midair, they can really go wrong. There’s not only the safety of everyone on board to consider but the safety of the untold numbers of people below. The stakes are perhaps higher — and more visible — than in any other transportation industry.
But in the case of the Boeing 737 MAX, the headlines are more than just about the tragic loss of the 189 people who died in the Lion Air Flight 610 crash into the Java Sea and the 157 people who died aboard Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. They’re about what, exactly, went wrong at one of the United State’s biggest and most well-respected companies.
Boeing, which first went into business more than 100 years ago when William Boeing oversaw construction of Model C planes for the U.S. Navy in World War I, is today regarded as the world’s largest aerospace company, manufacturing commercial, private and military aircraft. And yet now, with two crashes under investigation, more than 100 lawsuits from families of those who died in the crashes and the grounding of its entire MAX fleet, Boeing faces what The Wall Street Journal called its “gravest threat … in its modern history.”
The story of the Boeing 737 MAX isn’t over yet. The company and the government agencies involved in the crash investigations still have work to do in deciphering exactly what went wrong, why it wasn’t fixed and what can be done to ensure safety standards are met or changed in the future. But what we can do now is start to piece together the lessons that lie in the mistakes that got Boeing to where it is now — and what, then, associations can learn from them.
Don’t cut corners.
Sometimes the expensive, time-consuming choice is the right one. Give yourself time to make sure your job is done right.
In producing the Boeing 737 MAX, engineers were given a directive to ensure pilots of earlier 737 models wouldn’t need new training, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“Our marching orders are no training impact on this airplane. Period,” Richard Reed, a former Federal Aviation Administration engineer said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
The minimal training meant pilots weren’t familiar with certain safety system protocols and details, and Boeing was actually incentivized to avoid the training thanks to a contract with Southwest Airlines that would have resulted in a $1 million per plane fee if the pilots required it. (Boeing told the newspaper it didn’t intentionally keep details from pilots.)
Things will go wrong. Own the mistake.
Things break. Websites crash. Deadlines get missed. Even something you spend a huge amount of time and money on can fail you.
Owning your mistakes shows members you respond to problems and are willing to listen to complaints.
Boeing faces what Vox called “a public relations nightmare” as a result of the government investigations and crashes. But as crisis management firm Caeli Communications founder John McDonald told that website, “Boeing did a really good job, initially, of saying, ‘We need to find out what’s happening. We’re going to work on this and figure it out.’”
Communication is key.
Internal communication, especially when you change procedure, is paramount to ensuring your members, customers and other external stakeholders are able to have a seamless experience whenever they interact with your organization. If something changes but a staffer hasn’t gotten the memo, you’ve introduced a way for things to go wrong.