Communication Solutions with a Smile

It’s nice to know that an organization has a sense of humor … especially when it’s a segment of an industry that’s currently taking a beating for more reasons than we care to list here.

I’m talking about Qantas Airlines, known by many as The Flying Kangaroo, which is the national airline of Australia. The name was originally an acronym for the “Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services.”

Before sharing Qantas Airlines’s sense of humor, let’s give credit where credit is due. Qantas is Australia’s largest airline and is currently based in Sydney. It is the world’s second oldest continuously operating airline (behind KLM) and the oldest in the English-speaking world.

Last year (2007), Qantas was voted the fifth best airline in the world and, more importantly, it has the best safety record of all the world’s major airlines. I have a feeling that title may very well stem from its great sense of humor which has enhanced communication levels.

In our consulting and training experiences, I have found many examples which lend truth to the observation by author John Gardner that “most ailing organizations have developed a functional blindness to their own defects.” One of the most constant defects we find is simple communication. I’m amazed at some of the things we discover that are said and written within organizations. Worse yet, this kind of communication is not only openly accepted but seldom challenged. Not so at Qantas Airlines.

According to an unknown internal source, ground crew engineers grew tired of receiving incomplete and unclear feedback from the pilots. Apparently, after each flight, pilots fill out a “gripe sheet” report, conveying to the ground crew any mechanical problems which may have occurred during the flight.

The ground crew reads the form, corrects the problem, then records details of the action taken to correct the problem. Evidently, the pilots were becoming more and more vague in their descriptions and were not responding to requests to be more explicit on the report. The ground crew decided to do something about it. They gave the pilots a taste of their own medicine.

The following comments are supposedly real extracts from “gripe forms” completed by pilots with the solution responses of the ground crew.

P) = The problem logged by the pilot.
M) = The solution and action taken by the mechanic.

P) Left, inside main tire almost needs replacement.
M) Almost replaced left, inside main tire.

P) Something loose in cockpit.
M) Something tightened in cockpit.

P) Dead bugs on windshield.
M) Live bugs on back order.

P) Mouse in cockpit.
M) Cat installed.

P) Target radar hums.
M) Reprogrammed target radar with lyrics.

P) Noise under instrument panel. Sounds like midget pounding with a hammer.
M) Took hammer away from midget.

P) Suspected crack in windshield.
M) Suspect you’re right.

P) Evidence of leak on right, main landing gear.
M) Evidence removed.

P) Number 3 engine missing.
M) Engine found on right wing after brief search.

Apparently the ground crew made its point. Feedback reports immediately improved, and communication levels continue to be excellent, contributing greatly to its status of having the best safety record of all the world’s major airlines. What’s the communication status in your organization? If needed, are steps being taken to correct any problems?

About Harry K. Jones

Harry K. Jones is a motivational speaker and consultant for AchieveMax®, Inc., a company of professional speakers who provide custom-designed seminars, keynote presentations, and consulting services. Harry's top requested topics include change management, customer service, creativity, employee retention, goal setting, leadership, stress management, teamwork, and time management. For more information on Harry's presentations, please call 800-886-2629 or fill out our contact form.

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