01 February 2022

The Power of Belief

"Some things have to be believed to be seen."

--Madeleine L'Engle

An overlooked competitive advantage is a deeply held, empowering belief--in oneself, the enterprise, and its purpose. Shared belief makes execution possible. 

When embraced by a critical mass of employees (members, volunteers), beliefs or principles have a far more significant impact on your success than a plan. Why? A document seldom matches reality and needs to be updated before it's implemented.  

The right ideas or beliefs inspire; they are motivational and a form of differentiation. Beliefs create a vision and clarify purpose. They are characterized by their simplicity. One can begin to understand them when one hears them. And they can be explained to others. 

Plans are the opposite--verbose and filled with complexity. 

"If your business beliefs are solid, you will quickly find a way to create new solutions when the old systems break down," says Bedros Keullian in Entrepreneur Magazine. "Innovation and pandemic economies will make your operations look completely different. None of us can afford to get stuck on how we do business today. Hacks and quick fixes will become outdated almost as soon as they appear," notes Keullian.  

Loyalty is a two-way street.

A while ago, employers practiced handing out pink slips to employees, often due to restructuring a business undone by management mistakes. Unfortunately, the reverse is underway, where employees hand out pink slips to employers.  

The number of U.S. workers who quit their jobs reached a new high in November 2021, when 4.5 million people resigned. That's up from 4.2 million in October of the same year.  

According to the Society for H.R. Management (SHRM), workers are taking advantage of strong demand to look for jobs with better pay or working conditions. As a result, flexibility, not remote work, is becoming a driving force for departing associates.

The other side of the strategy

What else should job seekers be looking for in their next employer?

A business with a strong sense of purpose at its core.

The more admired small and medium-sized workplaces among millennials (NerdWallet, Better.com, Evergreen Loans) or larger companies (Cisco, Salesforce, Red Hat) long ago moved away from outdated strategy structure systems created at the turn of the last century. That design made people irreplaceable parts, especially in manufacturing.

In 1994, Christopher Bartlett and Sumantra Ghoshal published an article in Harvard Business Review and described purpose-based cultures this way:
  1. First, they emphasize following a clear strategic plan rather than building a rich, engaging corporate purpose. 
  2. Next, they focus less on formal structural design and more on effective management processes. 
  3. Finally, they are less concerned with controlling employees' behavior than developing their capabilities and broadening their perspectives. 
Bartlett and Ghoshal show that adaptive organizations "have moved beyond the old doctrine of strategy, structure, and systems to a softer, more organic model built on the development of purpose, process, and people."

The research reveals that employees want to work for something other than a company. Instead, they want to belong to an organization. 

The redemption of Delta Air Lines 

In 2020, U.S. airline travel plummeted by 90%. 

When Covid made its disruptive appearance, Delta Air Lines lost 95% of its revenues in 30 days. The steep fall was more than financial. Leading up to that moment, Delta was the best-performing airline in the world. 

"While we were seen as the leaders in the industry, as the champions in our own way, Covid leveled all of that. It took all of our advantages away, and we had to start over again," said Ed Bastian, Delta's CEO, in an interview with Chief Executive Magazine.

"We're emerging on top with an even stronger brand, a stronger company, a stronger passion and purpose for where we're going. That comes from the fact we've had to learn. We had to listen to each other, we had to rely on each other, we had to follow our instincts, and we had to keep very focused," Bastian added.  

Consider the backdrop for this current turnaround--9/11; a 2006 takeover attempt by U.S. Airways; Delta files for bankruptcy in 2007; and a 2008 merger with Northwest. 

(C) Delta Air Lines, Inc.

Within that historical context, Delta's leader let it be known there are more questions than answers in a global pandemic.  

The CEO offered this candid appraisal of the circumstances facing Delta--

"Leaders are looked to for direction and guidance, and there's a vulnerability and authenticity to letting people know that I'm just not sure where this is going, but having the confidence to know we're going to figure it out."

Consequential decisions 

"I set out the principles, right in the second week of March 2020, that we would focus on protecting each other. We didn't know how the business would return, but we would do our best to protect our people, customers, and their safety. We were going to protect our cash but also protect our future. And those were the guiding principles throughout the pandemic," Bastian emphasized in that interview.

The reward?

Delta Air Lines came out on top in The Wall Street Journal's 14th annual ranking of nine significant airlines by operational performance in 2021. Delta took the top spot in five categories, with a cancelation rate of just 0.6% in scheduled departures.

"If employees are to put out extraordinary efforts to realize company targets, they must be able to identify with them. It's fine to stress what to aim for, but people also need to know what the company stands for," Bartlett and Ghoshal conclude.

Delta's redemptive story makes the point.

Headwinds remain

Any comeback for the travel industry faces turbulence. In addition to Delta, other carriers such as American Airlines, United, and Southwest are looking at a potential loss of highly profitable business travelers, though what percentage is an educated guess. 

Face-to-face still makes a difference. As someone observed, "The beauty of communication is found in the nuance that's only felt with in-person conversations." How true that is.    

As a friend and global traveler, Bobbi Smisko likes to say, "To know you got to go."  

Covid variants, unruly passengers, and 36% higher jet fuel costs than a year ago, according to Aviation Weekly, require confidence to "figure it out." 

Look in the mirror first.

"The level of success you see in your life directly results from your belief system. But, of course, I mean your belief in your ability to succeed," advises Lyn Christian.  

Christian goes on to say, "Believing in yourself means having faith in your own capabilities. It means believing that you CAN do something--that it is within your ability. When you believe in yourself, you can overcome self-doubt and be confident to take action and get things done."

After two harrowing years, Delta Air Lines team members can testify to the power of belief--in leadership, themselves, and above all, a reason-to-be.  

*I am a long-standing Delta SkyMiles member. 


© Bredholt & Co.