What Can a Hotspot Teach You About Culture?

Saturday Spark #38

By Susan Hunt Stevens, Founder & CEO

At 6:15am on a very cold morning in Switzerland this week my plane was stranded on the tarmac. It was unable to take off due to a frozen water line. The proposed solution was to heat the plane as hot as a sauna and then wait to see if the line would defrost. Nearly everyone flying to Amsterdam was connecting to another flight and at the 45-minute delay mark, passengers were tired, sweaty and increasingly grumpy. 

One of the crew members stood up to give another update. After sharing the bad news that  “we’re trying, but it’s still stuck,” he then said, “I’m sure many of you are anxious and would value access to the Internet. Here’s my personal Hotspot (Rob’s iPhone). Please use it as you need.” People were stunned and thrilled. I immediately tweeted out a kudos to @KLM with the #employeeengagement hashtag. That tweet was retweeted liberally with people adding a number of different hashtags around #customerservice and #CX and #EX. Some even added other airlines.

We’ve certainly seen how fast the Internet can spread stories of horrible service and treatment.  However, we also now have the ability to applaud employees who show creativity, initiative and empathy even in extremely challenging situations. I would encourage you to remember the Rob moments and share them when you can.

As I sat there appreciating Rob’s iPhone hotspot, I wondered, how do you create more Robs? Are Robs just born and raised that way and you are lucky to hire them? I also wondered whether Rob would get compensated for the HUGE amounts of data being used by an entire planeload of people. Did that factor at all into his decision? I wondered whether what Rob did that morning would be captured anywhere in his reviews and help him advance? Would the people that work with Rob now be inspired to be that helpful in other situations? 

From our work in behavior change at WeSpire, we know behavior is contagious. Yes, Rob might be much more helpful than your typical KLM flight attendant by nature. However, he likely works in a culture where being helpful and creative in stressful situations is valued and rewarded. He’s likely been inspired by others in the past. His action will certainly leave a lasting impact on people working with him that day.

It’s also possible that he’s extraordinarily generous or has an unlimited data plan. However, my best guess is that KLM may have something akin to the Ritz Carlton’s approach that gives employees latitude for investing a designated amount of dollars without manager approval to overcome a major service issue.

In researching KLM’s culture, I found what I suspected. They put their employees at the center of their brand. Their “About KLM” states: “Based on the principle that our people are the key to our brand, we are convinced that we can make the difference by consistently offering our customers a memorable experience. This ambition is in our DNA. Thanks to the sincere attention we give our passengers, they feel acknowledged, contented and at ease.”

I’m positive KLM isn’t 100% people like Rob. Whomever decided leaving a plane on the tarmac overnight in a freezing Swiss city and not coming in early to reheat it needs their head examined. Their merger with Air France evidently caused some serious Dutch vs. French cultural clashes. But it’s also clear they have a culture with a context and framework to bring out the best in people like Rob and to help create more Robs. 

So whether you are leading a team, a family or a company, what can you do to ensure you are inspiring Rob-like action? First and foremost, put your people in the center. Empower them to be creative and solve problems within a set of parameters without needing approval and loads of process. Teach empathy by putting them as often as possible in other people’s shoes. Reward and recognize actions that show proactivity and ingenuity, particularly when resolving a significant problem. Finally, hold up desired behaviors as a role model. You are welcome to call it “Be Like Rob”.

Quote of the Week: “One person can make a difference and everyone should try.” – John Fitzgerald Kennedy


What is Saturday Spark:
As the leader of a purpose-driven company, I’m challenged daily to ensure our company is “walking the walk” and that I’m personally leading with purpose and impact at the forefront. The result is that I read, think, and learn a lot about the intersection of purpose, impact and leadership and have a few successes and a lot more “lessons learned.” I realized that my own insights may be helpful to other purpose-driven professionals if I took the time to reflect each week. If you find this inspiring, practical or helpful, I’d be honored if you shared it with your colleagues, your families and your friends.


Read Previous Week’s Spark: Do You Know Your Isms?