Photo credit: Ildo Frazao

Focus on what is mission critical to your business

Article published in the Philadelphia Business Journal  on February 18, 2024.

The success of all organizations depends on how well their mission critical imperatives are executed. In previous columns, I have written about the following four companies that failed to focus on what is mission critical. 

At Boeing lapse of focus on aircraft safety

The Jan. 5 failure of a fuselage door plug on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft is the latest incident demonstrating that safety must be a mission critical imperative at Boeing. 

The door plug blew off at 16,000 feet after the aircraft departed from Portland, Oregon, resulting in cabin depressurization. Fortunately, there were no fatalities and the plane was able to return to the airport. 

This was the third serious incident of a Max 8/9 aircraft in six years. In October 2018, a Lion Air Max 8 crashed, resulting in 189 fatalities. In March 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines Max 8 crashed, resulting in 157 fatalities. Both crashes were due to operational issues with the new MCAS system, which controlled the pitch of the aircraft.

On Jan. 10, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun addressed his employees regarding the Alaska Airlines incident. In an NBC News video of his emotional remarks, Calhoun said, “I got kids, I got grandkids, and so do you. This stuff matters. Everything matters. Every detail matters.” 

This is the mission critical mindset every Boeing and contractor employee should have. This should be Boeing’s mission statement and is an important element of Calhoun’s tone at the top.

Failure of Southwest Airlines information technology system

Operational disruptions at Southwest Airlines during the heavily traveled week prior to Christmas 2022 has been described as “the single largest meltdown in corporate aviation history.” As many as 16,000 Southwest flights were canceled. It’s a mission critical imperative for every airline to operate in adverse weather conditions.

The software that Southwest uses to schedule aircraft and crews and to reassign them in the event of a bad weather disruption is of 1990s vintage. It’s been reported that the system couldn’t manage the large number of schedule changes that occurred during December’s weather disruptions. 

For a company that heavily depends on information technology systems, why is Southwest’s IT so outdated? Why has their IT investment not kept pace with operational needs in times of severe weather disruptions, and with Southwest’s competitors? This was a mission critical failure of Southwest Airlines, which failed to ensure that the airline could continue to operate in all weather conditions.

Photo credit: Ildo Frazao

Volkswagen skirted environmental regulations

In 2014, Volkswagen was caught illegally installing software on their diesel cars that would give lower than actual readings of pollutant nitrous oxide in the emissions testing process. 

Volkswagen was fined $4.3 billion. Senior leaders of the company were charged with violating environmental laws, including the company’s CEO, who was sentenced to prison. The company suffered major damage to its reputation. Protecting their reputation is a mission critical imperative for every company.

Where was the legal, ethical and moral compass of the leadership of Volkswagen, and why was this not part of the tone at the top of Volkswagen’s CEO?

Wells Fargo violated customer and employee trust

If customers can’t trust their bank, who can they trust? The Wells Fargo scandal which became public in 2016 demonstrates that the bank ignored the mission critical imperative of not violating their customers’ or employees’ trust. It cost the bank $3 billion in fines, not to mention lost business. 

Quoting a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau press release, “Spurred by sales targets and compensation incentives, [Wells Fargo] employees boosted sales figures by covertly opening accounts and funding them by transferring funds from consumers’ authorized accounts without their knowledge or consent, often racking up fees or other charges. According to the bank … employees opened more than two million deposit and credit card accounts that may not have been authorized by consumers.” 

In a September 2016 CNN Money article, reporter Matt Eagan wrote that CNN spoke with a number of Wells Fargo employees who claimed they were fired for reporting these unethical practices on the ethics hotline to the board and to the Wells Fargo HR department. A subsequent article by Eagan stated, “Wells Fargo says it has found evidence that at least some of these whistleblower retaliation claims … may have merit.” This was a complete failure of the Wells Fargo board to do the right thing—protect employee whistleblowers.

As the leader of your business, ensure you focus on mission critical imperatives. As a board member, ensure you provide oversight on these imperatives. Your company’s reputation and your personal reputation depend on it. 

Stan Silverman is founder of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership. He can be reached at

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments are closed.