Before You Wreck Your Whole System

By Allen White atl - allen white taking the guesswork out of groups

When you fly, you count on sameness. Good planes, good service, on-time departure — these are the things frequent fliers enjoy. Anything out of the ordinary is unwelcome.

When things become out of the ordinary on a trip, like someone brings out the snack cart at your gate, it is the kiss of death for an on-time departure. Of course, I enjoy the snacks. They help to cover the taste of bitterness from a lackluster travel day. Same is good. Snacks are good. The reason for snacks is not good. On one recent flight, the snack cart contained sandwiches. I just rented an apartment at ATL for a few days.

One day I discovered the airline made a big change on purpose — not to every flight at every gate, just the gate I was leaving from. It was an experiment. They were running a pilot of a new way to board the plane. It was NOT the same, but it bore some promise.

At a Terminal B gate at ATL, just down from the Popeye’s with great service, the boarding area was laid out completely different. First, the gate agent announced a free valet service to place your carry on bag above your seat prior to boarding. At first everyone was skeptical. After all, if you travel frequently, you understand there are only two types of luggage: carry on and lost. (If you at all envy how much I travel, you are sick in the head by the way. It’s the closest I get to taking the bus).

Then, rather than all of the passengers ganging up to bolt onto the plane as soon as “Sky” was called after “Premium,” the airline changed something else. Sameness was gone. They had laid out three lanes on the floor like we were boarding with a 50 yard dash. Suddenly everyone was reliving the early days of Southwest Airlines when you stood in line for 60 minutes to grab an exit row seat.

Above each lane was a screen indicating where you should line up. Lane one: Premium (First Class), Lane two: Sky Priority (People who live on planes), Lane three: Zone 1. Ready, set, board. It worked pretty good, once we figured out what we were doing. No other gate at any other airport Delta flies had this system. Just this one gate. It was a pilot.

People like to know what they can count on. Now, in any organization some of those things are becoming outdated or ineffective. They need to change. Change is not wrong. But those who experience change feel a sense of loss, even passengers boarding planes. We had already figured out our angle to get on first. Now, we have to rethink it.

Rather than wrecking everything you’ve got, try a pilot. It’s more important to engage folks who are marginally involved than to upend your current system in favor of something newer and shinier. And, in the process you just might save your own tail. As John Maxwell says, “If you’re one step ahead you’re a leader. If you’re ten steps ahead you’re a martyr.”

Pilot something new. Live to tell about it.

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