When our Royal Airline KLM turned 100 years I wrote a blog “Bullshitting about your purpose is good too” about their ‘Fly responsibly’ advertising; I perceived this as something to push their brand without bringing it to the core of the organization as a higher purpose. Without rooting it, it would not be authentic and backlash. It happened then and now the pain is felt again.
Not being true to the purposeful message is being called greenwashing. For me, it is still good when companies do this kind of thing. When you communicate it and do not act upon it, it will get back to you through negative reactions of employees, clients, and other stakeholders. This forces these kinds of companies to do the right thing after all. So I prefer to see it as courageous to put yourself out there.
Take the blue train
I couldn’t help to point out some great opportunities that arise when the purpose is expanded from brand loading to strategic and conscious leadership level. One of them was bringing Thalys as the first non-airline into SkyTeam. Making a blue wagon, including stewardess, part of the red Thalys train.
Now, in Corona time, travel has changed completely. I must say I love the endless clear blue skies and do not miss the noise and background hum in the city. And yes I marvel over north Indians able to see the Himalayas for the first time in 40 years or being able to see the fish swim in clear Venetian canals. But looking at these skies, I can’t help but think of KLM now in dire straits and their missed opportunities.
They need Government support. One of the (mild) restrictions is that KLM becomes more environmentally friendly. From what I deduct from the newspapers (eg Het Financieele Dagblad 10/6/20 P8), this is the main issue to finalize the terms of support. When they had announced cooperation with Thalys already, these restrictions would have become opportunities.
Happy customers from New York, getting out of the train in Brussels center instead of having to get an expensive and time-consuming taxi from Zaventem after a silly mini flight from Amsterdam. And of course, when exiting the train a smiling stewardess would be handing them their luggage that was seamlessly labeled through.
We will still fly. Sometimes we have to and sometimes we want to see those Himalayas. The market will be different. Better different when this crisis is used right. The argument that KLM should not have limits its competitors do not face either, seems valid as such. It also blocks the way to new horizons. Instead of focusing on keeping the not so profitable short flight in place to feed the lucrative long hauls, they could agree with the government to reduce them and team up with them to make sure there will be an excellent high-speed train network.
With fewer flights the whole growth and noise issue around Schiphol will be gone too. These are the win-win-win solutions that arise when you set your purpose right. bring it into your culture, and find the right partners who are also playing at their strength. In that way make your offering much stronger, you align with your partners (eg government and Thalys), make society and the environment happy (less noise and pollution), and your shareholders (focus on the more profitable flights).
There are loads of opportunities when you define where you want to make a positive difference in the world. Then you can, with your unique strength in mind, redefine what your market is. Take action to prove that you take it seriously to convince the skeptics in your workforce and your clients. Make the values visible that make your culture strong and unique and support your purpose. This will eventually change an organization in being leading in the industry and good for all their stakeholders.
I do not know what is going on behind the scenes at KLM and may already be put in motion. I realize there will be many reasons why my suggestions may not be feasible. I know for sure, with all the brain capacity that can be unleashed within an organization by implementing the business model based on Conscious Capitalism, they can always come up with a better solution than me.