It’s Not About the Roles, It’s About the Goals!

September 26, 2011

I took a JetBlue flight recently where I had a center seat.  With a 6’3″ frame, a center seat is not very attractive, so when I got on the plane I asked a flight attendant if I could grab one of the open aisle seats.  She very nicely told me that the plane was going to be full, so I should sit in my assigned seat.  Then a guy jumped up out of his aisle seat and asked me if I wanted it.  I was pretty shocked, as it was the first time it had ever happened.  I asked him is he was sure, and he said something like, “Yes, definitely, take my seat.”  I sat down in his aisle seat and he took my center seat.  I felt a little bad, but was really happy to have an aisle seat.

The guy next to me told me that he was a JetBlue employee (he was wearing a JetBlue shirt).  Pretty nice, right?  There are employees on planes all the time, but have you ever had one offer their better seat to you?  On the way out of the plane, I noticed that the same guy was grabbing bags for people out of the overhead compartment.  Wow!

What this JetBlue employee knew was that it’s all about goals — not roles.  He was probably a maintenance worker or something like that, but he has customer satisfaction in mind and knows that better customer experience leads to happier and more loyal customers.  I don’t know if it is part of the JetBlue training or if he just inherently has this mindset, but it was really refreshing, caught my attention, and definitely made me feel closer to JetBlue.

The tradition in most companies is to define roles for people rather than goals for people, which works OK in more static environments, but doesn’t work well at all in dynamic, innovative startup environments.  You need your team doing what is necessary to hit your goals, not performing a list of tasks that defines their jobs!  The more they focus on their “box,” the fewer goals will be hit and the less innovative you will be as a company.

There is a HUGE opportunity for all businesses to think more about helping people understand the company’s goals and how people can move beyond their specific roles to support them.  I wrote about this in my previous article on getting people to move toward focusing on goals rather than roles, with the idea to have them start thinking of themselves as the CEO of something and the bottlenecks that prevent them from doing just that.

Interestingly, I was on a Delta flight a week after my JetBlue experience and sat in a bulkhead seat next to a Delta employee.  The Delta employee had boarded the plane first and put two large bags into the overhead, which required me to put my bag a couple of seats back (I was late boarding, as usual).  This is a more common experience with employees on airlines (along with being given the opportunity to cut in front of their customers in security lines).  I didn’t think much of it before, but after I had the JetBlue employee experience, a new bar was set and it made me think of all of the inconveniences created by most airline employees not having a goal orientation.  It also made me think less of Delta (an airline that I like a lot) after having the incredible employee experience with JetBlue.

Food for thought…

What things could you be doing in YOUR company to improve the goal orientation of your employees?


Founder & Partner

As the founder of OpenView, Scott focuses on distinctive business models and products that uniquely address a meaningful market pain point. This includes a broad interest in application and infrastructure companies, and businesses that are addressing the next generation of technology, including SaaS, cloud computing, mobile platforms, storage, networking, IT tools, and development tools.