Don't Be Like American Airlines

Stay on your toes, whether or not your boss cracks the whip.

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The mess American Airlines is in right now is an obvious cautionary tale for other airlines, but it's also a lesson for you and me.

Take a look at what Dan Garton, American's executive vice president of marketing, had to say yesterday at a press conference when he addressed the airline's grounding of flights because of problems with MD-80 wiring that didn't comply with a Federal Aviation Administration airworthiness directive:

When [the mechanics] accomplished it, they took what I would call certain latitudes in accomplishing it. My example would be where they tied those cords....

In the end, it would have been our job to have followed the strict guidelines that we were there. We felt, our mechanics felt, that they had greater latitude. They did not, and that was our mistake.

So why did they feel they had certain latitude? Garton goes on to explain that it "feels" as if the FAA has "upped the level of rigor on looking [at] the specificity of not just whether you accomplished the [airworthiness directive] but exactly how you did it."

This is the key. We all get sloppy at work. In the beginning, the pencils are sharp and the shoes are shined. Your boss said to be at work by 9 a.m., and you are, for the first two months. But then it's 9:07—you scurry into the office and no one says anything. Then it's 9:18, and still you hear not a word. Hit the snooze button one more time! Then you miss the train, and you walk in at 9:49. Still no one notices. So why on earth should you show up at 9 anymore?

Look at American. One day, your boss will remember that he told you to be there by 9, or he will need your help at 9, or his boss will tell him that employees need to be in by 9—and on that day, as you saunter toward your desk at 9:52, you will be forced to ground hundreds of flights.