Over the last few months, as I’ve followed the most-recent issues that Boeing has had with its planes, I’ve wondered how things could have gone so wrong. If you were to ask customers their most basic requirement when it comes to travel, I’m guessing the answer is, “Get me from Point A to Point B… safely!” (Yes, beyond that, they look at price, convenience, speed, etc.)

So that made me think about Boeing’s core values. On their site, it states:

At Boeing, we are honored to serve all the people who rely on our products and services every day. That’s why we hold ourselves to the highest standards in our work, how we do it and how we treat one another.

Across our global enterprise, Boeing employees are united by a shared commitment to our values, which serve as the guiding principles for all we do. As we innovate and operate to make the world better, each one of us takes personal accountability for living these values and leading the way forward for our teams, our customers, our stakeholders, and the communities in which we live and work.

Boeing’s Core Values

OK. They say all the right things. Let’s see what their values are.

They are broken down into “How We Operate” and “How We Act.” Really? I’m not sure those are mutually exclusive.

Under How We Operate, we find:

  • Be accountable — from beginning to end
  • Apply Lean principles – eliminate traveled work
  • Crush bureaucracy
  • Reward predictability and stability — everywhere in our business

Crush bureaucracy is interesting; it starts with: “Our commitment to safety, quality, and compliance stands strong and unwavering. At the same time, the ability to conduct our day-to-day work as efficiently as possible is also fundamental to strengthening our business.”

Under How We Act, the values include:

  • Lead on safety, quality, integrity, and sustainability
  • Foster a Just Culture grounded in humility, inclusion, and transparency
  • Import best leadership practices
  • Earn stakeholder trust and preference
  • Respect one another and advance a global, diverse team

Nine values are a lot, but there’s a lot of good in those values. I’m not convinced they are being lived, though.

I’ll start with the first one and focus on that: lead on safety, quality, integrity, and sustainability: “In everything we do and in all aspects of our business, we will make safety our top priority, strive for first-time quality, hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards, and continue to support a sustainable future.”

“Safety” as a Core Value

Let’s talk a little bit about “safety” as a core value. I’ve worked with several construction and manufacturing businesses over the years, and “safety” is a favorite core value among those industries. Is it inherent in those industries where it’s paramount to success? Should it just be intuitive (and not stated) in terms of how they operate?

It’s a good reminder as a core value, and it shores up the importance of safety in all they do. But if the core values, especially that one, are not lived, then what’s it all for? I’ll address that in a moment.

Pros of “Safety” as a Core Value

Here are the pros of having “safety” as a core value:

  • Commitment to employee well-being: Prioritizing safety demonstrates a commitment to the well-being of employees and creates a culture where employees feel valued and cared for.
  • Fewer accidents and injuries: In theory, emphasizing safety helps prevent workplace accidents and injuries. Assuming they live this core value from the top down, by implementing safety protocols, training programs, and hazard assessments, organizations can create a safer work environment for employees.
  • Risk reduction: Similarly, when employees prioritize safety in their decisions and actions, there’s a signification reduction in workplace accidents and injuries.
  • Cost savings: Investing in safety measures can lead to long-term cost savings by reducing workers’ comp claims, medical expenses, and legal liabilities associated with workplace accidents.
  • Enhanced productivity: A safe work environment reduces downtime caused by accidents and injuries, so employees feel more confident and focused when they know their safety is prioritized.
  • Good reputation: Companies that prioritize safety often enjoy a positive reputation among employees, customers, and the community. Demonstrating a commitment to safety can enhance brand perception and attract top talent.
Cons of “Safety” as a Core Value

The downsides to having “safety” as a core value include the following.

  • Cost of implementation: Implementing comprehensive safety programs and protocols requires financial investment. Organizations face initial costs for training, equipment, and safety infrastructure, which can strain budgets, particularly for small businesses.
  • Resistance to change: Some employees may resist safety initiatives, viewing them as burdensome or disruptive to workflow. Overcoming resistance to change and fostering a safety-conscious culture may require significant effort and communication.
  • Complacency: Organizations that prioritize safety as a core value may become complacent over time, assuming that existing safety measures are sufficient. This complacency can lead to overlooked hazards and increased risk of accidents. I think this is an important factor to consider.
  • Balancing safety with productivity: Striking a balance between safety and productivity can be challenging. Strict safety protocols may slow down processes or hinder innovation, leading to frustration among employees and management.
  • Conflicting priorities: Similarly, in high-pressure situations, safety might take a back seat to other urgent tasks or just getting it done.
  • Potential for over-regulation: In highly regulated industries, excessive emphasis on safety may lead to over-regulation and bureaucratic red tape. Strict compliance requirements can stifle innovation and flexibility, impeding organizational growth and competitiveness.

My biggest concern is complacency. If brands prioritize safety, what happens when people become complacent about it and just assume that (a) all of the proper safety measures are in place and (b) everyone is acting and behaving safely.

Balancing Safety With Everything Else

If companies must strike a balance between safety and productivity or safety and financials, we’re all in trouble – employees and customers. In the article “Boeing Faces Tricky Balance Between Safety and Financial Performance,” the author writes about Boeing’s CEO selections over the years, i.e., CEOs clearly more focused on the financials than the humans/safety. She cites two examples in which the CEO from 2019 and and then the current CEO talk about how they can do better:

Current CEO, Dave Calhoun, stated in 2020 that “the company would ‘be better’ and would hold ‘ourselves accountable to the highest standards of safety and quality.'”

Previous CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, stated in 2019, after the second Max 8 crash that “recent events have been a deep reminder of the importance of our enduring values at Boeing: safety, quality, and integrity, …”

Lip service, I suppose.

When Employees Don’t Live the Values

Here’s (click this link) what happens when you live the values; the quote at the end of the article is spot on. But when leaders and employees fail to live the core values of the organization, several negative consequences can arise, including:

  • Cultural misalignment: Culture = core values + behaviors. Core values are at the root of your culture. When they are not lived, there is a clash between what the organization embraces and what it practices. This can lead to confusion, cynicism, and a lack of alignment among employees.
  • Poor employee engagement: Employees who don’t see their leaders and peers living the core values may become disengaged. They’ll feel disconnected from the organization’s mission and purpose, leading to decreased morale and motivation.
  • Inconsistent decision-making: Core values guide decision-making within an organization. When leaders and employees disregard these values, decisions become inconsistent and based on personal interests rather than organizational principles. This inconsistency can lead to chaos and instability.
  • Inconsistent everything: Core values guide “how we do things around here.” Without that moral compass of right and wrong, inconsistencies happen in all the ways that we typically operationalize core values, i.e., all the ways in which we typically operate/work.
  • Reputation damage: Organizations are often judged externally – by customers, by partners, by shareholders, and by the communities in which they do business – by how well they uphold their stated values. When leaders and employees fail to live these values, it can damage the organization’s reputation.
  • Attrition and talent acquisition challenges: Employees who don’t resonate with the core values of your business are more likely to leave. And potential hires may be discouraged from joining the organization if they perceive a disconnect between the stated values, their values, and the actual culture.
  • Ethical and legal risks: Ignoring core values can sometimes lead to ethical lapses and legal risks. Behaviors inconsistent with organizational values may result in legal liabilities, compliance issues, or reputational harm.
Implications For Product Quality

The focus of this article is Boeing and the safety of their planes. So, how does not living the core values impact product quality? In a variety of ways.

  • Lack of commitment to excellence: Core values often include commitments to excellence, integrity, and quality. When these values are not upheld, there may also be a corresponding lack of commitment to producing high-quality products. Employees cut corners, ignore quality control measures, or fail to prioritize excellence in their work.
  • Decreased attention to detail: Core values such as attention to detail and continuous improvement are essential for maintaining product quality. When these values aren’t lived, employees may overlook details, ignore feedback, and fail to make necessary improvements to products.
  • Inconsistency in standards: Core values help establish standards and expectations for product quality. They are “how we do things around here.” When leaders and employees don’t adhere to these values, there may be inconsistency in the application of quality standards across products. This inconsistency lead to variations in product quality and customer dissatisfaction.
  • Negative impact on brand reputation: Poor product quality resulting from a failure to live core values can damage the reputation of the brand. Customers who receive sub-par products share their negative experiences through word of mouth, social media, or online reviews, tarnishing the brand’s reputation and reducing customer trust and loyalty.
  • Increased costs and decreased efficiency: Poor product quality results in increased costs due to returns, repairs, and customer complaints. Additionally, the resources required to address quality issues can detract from productivity and efficiency. Without a commitment to quality driven by core values, organizations may struggle to streamline processes and reduce costs associated with product defects.
  • Lost competitive advantage: In today’s competitive market, product quality is a key differentiator for organizations. When leaders and employees fail to live core values related to quality and customer satisfaction, they risk losing their competitive advantage. Competitors that prioritize quality may attract customers away from the organization, leading to decreased market share and revenue.

Leaders must prioritize the integration and operationalizing of core values related to quality, excellence, and customer satisfaction into their product development processes. Leaders must lead by example and foster a culture that puts the customer at the center and values and rewards high-quality work. Employee training, clear quality standards, and robust quality control measures are essential for ensuring that products meet or exceed customer expectations.

In Closing

Core values shape an organization’s culture, which directly impacts how products are designed, manufactured, and delivered to customers. Safety is an important core value that cannot just become a checked box that employees become complacent about. Live the values. Model the values. Appreciate the outcomes.

If you put good people in bad systems, you get bad results. You have to water the flowers you want to grow. ~ Stephen Covey


Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. In 2019, she published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. In 2022, she published her second book, Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value for Your Business [Advantage|ForbesBooks], which is available to purchase on Amazon, Books A Million!, Target, Barnes & Noble, and thousands of other outlets around the world! Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your EX and CX game.

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