Last night, while traveling back to Nashville from Dallas, I found a young lady’s driver’s license in the women’s room at DFW. Knowing how important a state issued ID is when traveling, I immediately began looking for an agent with American Airlines to give it to in the hopes the young lady could be paged to retrieve it. Needless to say, this wasn’t as easy as I had anticipated, but I had a 2 hour layover so time wasn’t an issue.

Finally after walking past 8-10 gates, I actually found a real, live gate agent. I approached her and explained the dilemma. Her response was classic. At first,  she just stared at me with a truly dumbfounded look on her face, and then she said, “Let me call my lead to see how she wants me to handle this”. Call your lead? Are you kidding me, I thought. What’s up with that, can’t you assess the critical nature of the situation and make a simple PA announcement? In other words, can’t you take appropriate action to provide superior customer service? After all, who knows how long the ID was laying there before I came along.

After hanging up from her lead, she informed me that the lead was going to attempt to identify which flight the young lady was on and if she was still in the airport, they would try to locate her and return it.  Oh wait – it gets worse:  the gate agent said, “if she’s already gone and we can’t find her, I’ll put it in lost and found”.  Lost and found – you’ve got to be kidding, right? No, she was serious! Incredulous I replied, “If she is traveling, she may not be able to get back through here to check lost and found – can’t you get someone to at least mail it to her address?” The poor lady stuttered and stammered, but finally agreed that she would take the initiative to try to mail it to her if she couldn’t be located. Note that she would “try”, there was no declarative statement of I will take care of it. Oh well, I thought, so I thanked her and walked away shaking my head in utter disbelief. Amanda, wherever you are – I hope you get your driver’s license back!

This situation is brimming with performance, service and culture issues, begging the following questions about you, your employees and your organizational culture:

  1. Are your employees empowered to make decisions and take appropriate action to serve your customers?
  2. Do your employees care enough to go out of their way to take care of your customers?
  3. Do they take the initiative to solve problems?
  4. Do they act in the company’s best interest?
  5. Does your organizational culture promote innovative leaders or blind followers?
  6. Do your employees add value to your organization or are they retired in place and simply collecting a paycheck?

There’s a legendary tale at Apple involving an employee’s 15 second elevator ride with Steve Jobs that ended her career. Ed Niehaus, who was wooed and hired by Jobs to do PR for resurgent Apple, tells it like this: “I once rode down an elevator, not that many floors. We got in the elevator and the next floor a young woman got in, and I could see her go, ‘oops, wrong elevator.’ Little did she know that would be a fatal mistake.  Steve said, ‘Hi, who are you?’ and introduces himself  — ‘I’m Steve Jobs’ and turned on the charm and said, ‘What do you do?’  She, like the gate agent, stuttered and stammered to explain what she did. At the end of her explanation, as the elevator doors opened, Steve looked at her and replied,

What you do is NOT essential to our business.
We are not going to need you.
You’re fired.

While this may seem cold and harsh, it illustrates the fact that when you’re hired by an organization, you’re hired to provide value and if you’re not providing value (in excess of what you cost the organization) you may not be long for that organization.

Are you adding value? Are your employees? If you were asked by your boss or your CEO what you do, could you clearly and concisely explain your value to the organization? If you’re a leader, are you building a culture that unleashes employees’ maximum potential? If you’re not – you may not be of value either.