Make Your IRA Contribution or Get Forcibly Dragged Out of Our Office!

Pretty outrageous right?

By just about any measure, the United handling of their displaced crew and a seated passenger was an unmitigated disaster. I was torqued off enough about the situation to write letters to my senators asking for a better airline passenger bill of rights. What's in place now barely qualifies as “rights” in any respect, but I'll leave it to the airline travel warriors to blog about those changes. I have three observations that we can all learn from.

It’s true that businesses generally run well with predictable, structured routines with clear rules for every employee to follow. But every business should occasionally take a big step back and look at the path that they are on and what they are doing and how they are operating.

Businesses should ask, “Why are we operating this way” and “does it really makes sense for us to continue to operate this way”? Just because you have been displacing passengers for decades to accommodate your operations and just because you have a very clear corporate policy on how to do it and just because there are federal rules that support what you are doing, doesn't mean that you should. It's amazing how far away from normal, reasonable even humane treatment businesses can stray. Business can avoid that problem by periodically doing a strategic review and having more junior associates, or even better, customers, give the feedback and assessment.

Many companies in the financial services industry are adopting the fiduciary standard for their business even though they might not be required to do so. I suspect many of those companies that are did just what I described above. They took a big step back and said something like – you know what, people are trusting us with their hard earned money and we have a genuine interest to help them – why wouldn't we want to embrace a standard that says we need to put our clients' best interest above ours? It is so clear and so simple, yet the current routines and enabling regulations can obscure even the most common sense approaches.

Next, a truly customer centric company would never have a problem even remotely close to the United disaster. If you truly have your customers at the center of all that you do, they will guide you to successful business strategies.

A genuine engagement with your customers will help prevent a company from going so far off the rails, as happened here. An activity as simple as listening more can be very enlightening. Have you ever read an airline contract of carriage? Imagine a focus group of customers gathering to discuss your equivalent of a contract of carriage?  Are they going to be delighted and amazed at how fairly and reasonably they are being treated? Customer centric organizations would embrace that feedback and make substantive change.

And you know what else they would do? Rather than give passengers some standard peace offering of a free flight or refund, they would ask each passenger individually what they could do to regain their trust and compensate them for their inconvenience. And then do it.

Lastly, organizations that don’t empower their lowest level employees to stop a disaster like this should expect more disasters. What is your equivalent of the red cord on the assembly line that any employee can pull and stop the whole assembly line process?

Constantly managing with top down directives and fostering a culture of “shut up and row” is great for the military, and terrible for just about every customer facing business. 

I’m not sure what’s worse -- that poor doctor getting pulled off that flight in such a disturbing manner OR that no one involved in the incident said to themselves, wait a minute, this is crazy, let’s pause for a second and work this out. It appears that they did a phenomenal job at following orders from above and following established procedures. Which of those two axes does your organization excel at?

In addition to being great business lessons, these are great personal lessons too. We should all take a big step back from what we are doing and ask ourselves in our personal or family life, if what we are doing feels right and makes sense. We should all listen more and we should all give up just a bit of the command and control life we’ve built and see what happens when we empower those around us.

At J. Bradford Investment Management we take investments and financial planning very seriously, but we also strive to learn about our customers as people. We want to know what drives you. We want to understand your values. We want to help you get your money working as hard for you as you work to earn it. Let’s collaborate and I promise I won’t have you dragged out of our office if you don't make your IRA contribution this year.

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