Hope Is Not a Plan

June 24, 2007

Hope Is Not a Plan

Interesting interview in this week’s Wall Street Journal on JetBlue’s new CEO Dave Barger (“Changing the Course of JetBlue” by Susan Carey, June 21). I particularly liked Barger’s quotes about facing crises, seeing early warning signs and recovering reputation. Here are the quotes:

“Hope isn’t a plan. You better assume that Plan B is not going to materialize either, so what’s Plan C and D.”

“…apologize and then get on with it. What I heard from so many customers was, ‘Thank you for the apology, stop apologizing, go fix it.'”

“There wasn’t an event or a meeting, but there were smoke signals, whether it was the cost creep or the decision to take on 35 airplanes a year.”

“[A consultant] said ‘You keep blowing the same candles out.’ You end up trying to fix the same problem the same way, or the same problem crops up and you try another fix, but there’s not a comprehensive fix. As a leadership team, you better be listening to the signals because otherwise here’s the next airplane and the next new city and we’re going to blow the same candles out again.”

Barger’s tip on leading a company is “to communicate three times more than seems necessary.” Communicating three times more than seems necessary fits squarely with Jack Welch’s dictum that as CEO you have to communicate so much it practically makes you gag. Not the most pleasant description but certainly true these days. It is harder than ever to get messages throughout the organization as employees are bombarded with news, challenges and competitors.
I once heard a CEO say that you should take whatever bad news you hear and multiply it times ten. The thinking was that the news must be pretty bad if it reaches the corner office. CEOs and boards are notoriously the last ones to know when things go awry. Those early warning signs are worth paying attention to as Barger suggests. The hard question is how to know which ones are going to dissipate or start a fire.

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross
lesliegainesross@gmail.com

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of reputations.

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