We’ve all watched the fall of Boeing’s planes and its company with horror. In a relatively short time, it has gone from one of the world’s most admired organizations to easy pickings for all sorts of jokes.

But its soul is still there. And its new CEO must free it.

Freeing the company’s soul is the right way to think about the next CEO’s remit. What that CEO must do is

  1. Inspire the keepers of Boeing’s soul to step up
  2. Enable them by getting the disablers out of their way
  3. Empower them to infuse the rest of the organization with that soul

Inspire the keepers of Boeing’s soul to step up

I witnessed the birth of a brand in Japan in Coca-Cola’s green Sokenbicha tea. It was like watching the birth of a volcano, going from nothing to something amazing in almost no time at all and becoming a premium-priced, canned, ready-to-drink tea that just kept growing. None of us really understood it. Our business leaders at Coca-Cola pretended to understand. Our marketing people pretended. Our account people at our agency McCann-Erickson pretended. But the only person who really got it was an art director buried in the depths of McCann-Erickson. She was the true keeper of Sokenbicha’s soul.

The good news about the rapid fall of Boeing is that there are still people buried in the depths of the company that remember how it felt to build great airplanes. There were there before Boeing decided to get more profitable by doing cost/benefit analyses driving decisions that had positive impacts on the bottom line with only small sacrifices in quality. No single sacrifice in quality made a difference – until planes started falling out of the sky and doors started fall off planes in mid-air.

The keepers of Boeing’s soul have been buried under the weight of others preaching new ways of doing business. They’ve been taught to keep their heads down, stay quiet, and keep out of the way of progress. The new CEO has to find them and inspire them to raise their heads again, speak up and pave the way forward.

Get the disablers out of the way

Just like Michelangelo cut away the excess marble to free the statues within, Boeings new CEO must get the disablers out of the way of the keepers of the soul.

Procter & Gamble’s Jurgen Hintz did this well when the company’s Folger’s Coffee business was suffering. He rallied everyone around fixing the brand’s core full-flavored, full-caffeine red can. He told everyone to focus on the red can. He refused to meet with anyone about anything not related to fixing the red can. They focused. They fixed it.

Boeing’s new CEO should refuse to talk about anything other than building great planes (or whatever is code for Boeing’s soul.) They should get rid of all the naysayers, all the blockers, all the people working on distracting projects. They should cut out all meetings about anything other than building great planes. I’m exaggerating to make the point – but not by much.

Empower the keepers of the soul

Just like anyone can stop the production line in Toyota’s car factories, Boeing’s new CEO needs to empower anyone and everyone to stop everything when they see something that’s going to detract from Boeing’s building great planes. This is about eliminating group think. This is about eliminating people looking away. You define your values by what you’re willing to walk by. The keepers of Boeing’s soul can no longer stand by and watch the company continue to deteriorate. They can no longer walk by things they know are wrong.

Implications for you

Companies don’t lose their souls all at once. They bury them bit by bit, piece by piece over an extended period of time. It’s the result of a gazillion little decisions each of which make perfectly logical sense at the time.

Stop the erosion now.

Find the keepers of your company’s soul. Make sure they know how important they are. Protect them from all the forces of progress that dim their light. Empower them to help keep you and the company moving forward without moving away from its soul.

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