Dazed and confused amid broken promises

It’s been such a bad week on promises for corporates here in Australia I’m not even sure where to start. I have noted in the past that “Bobs” are built one action and decision at a time and destroyed the same way. This week we have had two companies give us a real time demonstration of that with ANZ and Air Australia leading the pack in broken promises.

I’ll start with Air Australia and with a question. Where were the board and executive team? Almost certainly not looking after the shop. The whole “we just ran out of money to buy fuel” sounds like an excuse from your teenager about why they were home late, not something anyone should accept from a publicly traded company.

Amidst the wreckage are stranded, passengers, stranded employees who are also now without a job, and the only people to come out with something worth anything are the administrators who have to oversee the mess.

Trading while insolvent is a dicey business and not to mention illegal, so it seems some hard questions about who knew what and when do need to be asked in this case.

Damning are revelations on the weekend that major travel insurers stopped covering Air Australia flights over financial concerns back in December and Flight Centre have been asking passengers booking the airline through them to sign a waiver.

There are some industries where a company can try and trade its way out of financial trouble without drastic impact should they fail – the airline industry is not one of them!

At the other end of the spectrum you have ANZ, who are breaking a whole different set of promises and along the way showing not only don’t they live in our world, they may live in a whole alternate universe.

Depending on your stakeholder status at ANZ it’s been a mixed couple of weeks. If you are an employee in the back office who just lost their job it’s been a bad week. If you are a shareholder seeing record quarterly profits it’s been a good week. If you’re a customer with a mortgage and another rate hike it’s been a bad week. If you’re a prospective employee in Asia where jobs are being off-shored to, it’s been a good week. If you’re a mid-level executive who gets a cruise with a personal butler for your good work it’s been a really, really good week.

Is it any wonder people don’t know which way is up (or down)? I keep in mind that the above litany could be just about any of the big four banks – not that that gives ANZ any kind of a hall pass for hitting their misalignment quota for the year! And it’s only February.

The number of mixed messages and broken promises by ANZ almost don’t beggar belief. But underneath it all appears to be the message that employees don’t matter (except a few), customers don’t matter much either and only profits do.

Not that a company shouldn’t aim to be profitable, Air Australia shows the dangers when that doesn’t happen. But surely there is a better middle ground than profits above everything and at any cost.

Michel Hogan is an independent brand adviser and advocate. Through her work with Brandology here in Australia and in the United States, she helps organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make, with a strong sustainable brand as the result. She also publishes the brand thought leadership blog – Brand Alignment. You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan

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