A Publication of WTVP

By now everyone knows what United Airlines did last month, but most people don’t know why. There’s been a lot of talk on algorithms and over-booking, but the real reason is plain and simple. United’s CEO lives in values fantasyland.

United clearly has a culture of “nobody cares about passengers” or this incident could never have happened. On its website, United claims one of its core values is “warm and welcoming.” And another is that they “make decisions with facts and empathy.”

This is just another example of a company that has what I call “bumper sticker” values. “Bumper sticker” values look good in an annual report. “Bumper Sticker” values make the CEO feel warm and fuzzy. United isn’t the only company that lives in values fantasyland. Wells Fargo is another example. They claim they “do what’s right for the customer,” yet in actual practice they defrauded customers. Uber claims it is an inclusive company, yet it has a toxic culture.

The CEO is often unaware of the disconnect between the bumper sticker and real values of the company. They often don’t recognize that until a crisis occurs. And when a crisis does occur, the CEO is often times asked to step down And in most cases, they should. It is the CEO’s job to create positive cultures, not to defend toxic ones.

But that is just what Oscar Muñoz did last month. His initial response was to defend his employees. Do you know why? Because he drank the Kool-Aid and believed the bumper sticker that the United culture is “warm and welcoming.” Since he believed his employees are always “warm and welcoming”, of course he would conclude the passenger was in the wrong. A perfect example of a CEO living in values fantasyland.

If you are a CEO, it’s time for a hard look to see if are you living in values fantasyland before a United-like disaster strikes you.

It’s time for a values check-up. But don’t have the human resource people ask employees what the company values are. They will tell you what they think you want to hear. Don’t declare what you think the values are and expect people to behave accordingly. That never works. Here is what you should and shouldn’t do:

Bottom line, make values a key part of performance evaluation. Don’t make this a check off the box exercise. Make values the standard for promotions and compensation increases. And make values a key determinate in terminations. By instilling the right set of values, you'll save your company from crash landing. iBi

Steven L. Blue is the President & CEO of Miller Ingenuity, an innovative company revolutionizing traditional safety solutions for railway workers, and author of the new book, American Manufacturing 2.0: What Went Wrong and How to Make It Right. For more information, visit, or connect with Blue on Twitter, @SteveBlueCEO.