3 minute read

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun didn’t mince words after he learned of the harrowing experience of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282. In acknowledging the mid-air blowout of a panel that left a gaping hole in the side of the plane, he adamantly exclaimed a situation like this “can never happen again.” 

Calhoun’s direct language and urgency have been on full display for both internal and external audiences, and the Boeing company communications have brought a new level of transparency to crisis communications. But what’s striking in the Boeing situation is the company’s prioritization of its employees in all of its communications. 

As a publicly traded company, you would think that the CEO’s focus would be on stanching the bleeding as the fatal flaw in its 737-9 sent the stock downward. But Calhoun was deeply committed throughout the month following the January 5 incident to keeping employees informed and on board with solutions for ensuring the safety of one of the company’s flagship products. 

On its website, Boeing has posted both internal and external communications about the situation, even sharing a clip of the CEO addressing employees at a company meeting within days of the accident. This prioritization of internal audiences isn’t just in Boeing’s timeline and distribution for communications. 

In all of its messaging, Boeing has also placed an emphasis on the role of employees – and their fitness for meeting the challenge – to find solutions. “Use your voice” and calls to speak up aren’t just mantras from the top. They’ve been accompanied by opportunities for hands on learning and time for reflection at Quality Stand Downs the company quickly organized for thousands of employees to attend.  

It’s especially difficult to be forthcoming when the company itself, including cost-cutting decisions, are responsible for the problems. “We caused the problem, and we understand that,” Calhoun said.   

In reporting 2023 earnings late last month, Calhoun again turned the attention to the priority of working together to solve the Boeing 737 quality issue and deprioritizing the financials: 

“While we often use this time of year to share or update our financial and operational objectives, now is not the time for that. We will simply focus on every next airplane while doing everything possible to support our customers, follow the lead of our regulator and ensure the highest standard of safety and quality in all that we do. Ultimately – that is what will drive our performance. 

As we go about that work, I want to be clear that we still have every confidence in our recovery. I have confidence in you and I have confidence in Boeing. We have a serious challenge in front of us – but I know this team is up to the task.” 

For many brands, unforeseen crises can result in finger pointing, blame shifting, or sometimes denial and silence. But leaders who quickly acknowledge the truth, galvanize the people who can fix the problem, and stay committed to transparency will come out on top. And those who prioritize their internal audiences will find they have the support and enthusiasm they need to weather the storm. 

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