You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar”     – Grandma-ism

I heard this phrase most of my life from either my mother or my grandmother and as a kid I wondered what exactly it meant. But as an adult whose dedicated my life to bringing out the best in people so organizations can succeed, I have found that this bit of sage advice can go a long way in building the kind of culture any organization needs to succeed.

Case in point: Last week Spirit Airlines found itself in a firestorm of controversy based on a company policy that no one, including the CEO, was willing to apply with any common sense. Spirit Airlines is a low-cost airlines that prides itself on offering dirt cheap air fares with purchasable options based on each passenger’s preferences, such as a carry-on bag fee, etc. As part of their low cost strategy they also have a NO REFUND policy. So if you purchase a ticket on Spirit and later need a refund – forget it. In this particular case a Vietnam Vet, Jerry Meekens, purchased a $197 airline ticket to go see his daughter in New Jersey. Shortly after purchasing the ticket he was diagnosed with terminable cancer and the doctor advised him that he was too far along to risk traveling. Jerry then contacted Spirit Airlines seeking a refund to which he was flatly denied citing “company policy”. Not only did the customer service agent deny his request, as the publicity grew Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza also publicly denied his request stubbornly stating they treat all passengers the same way and their policy is a way to help keep costs down for all passengers.

3 Tips to Building a Culture of Trust and Respect

Treat people the way you would want to be treated – all people, whether they are your employees or your customers hate it when you hide behind a policy and won’t give consideration to extenuating circumstances. In every situation that arises, ask yourself – “How would I want to be treated in this situation?” and then let the answer be your guide.

Be Consistent – Remember, being consistent is NOT treating everyone the same – it is treating people in similar situations similarly. By viewing Jerry like everyone else who might arbitrarily want a refund, Spirit lost it’s compassion and ability to enforce policies based on the original intent of the policy. Like most organizations who get too narrowly focused, Spirit assumed that by making an exception for Jerry would mean their policy was no longer enforceable for anybody – but that’s dead wrong. Consistency is simple – the next passenger that books a flight and then finds they are dying and too sick to fly gets a refund – all others who are not in a similar life or death situation do not.

Use common sense – Every organization needs policies and guidelines to guide decision making, but those policies were originally established with an intent in mind – train your employees (at all levels) what the intent behind your policies are and then trust them to use good judgment when enforcing them.If they make a mistake it can be fixed, but the good will and trust will go along way to building the culture you need to succeed.

By the way, after a week of intense pressure, especially from veterans groups leveraging social media sites, Mr. Baldanza grew a heart and agreed to not only personally refund Jerry his fare, he also agreed to donate $5,000 to the Wounded Warrior Project.