What’s the difference between Aviva and Arriva?

 Becoming a bus company

I have previously confessed to my love for Seth Godin and this just brought back some painful memories.

Along with many, many, others within the insurance industry I witnessed the sad decline of Norwich Union…and with it some of the other once great names of UK insurance e.g. General Accident and Commercial Union. Of course a change of name does not merit use of the word “demise” but the attitude toward staff over many years and the lack of any clear, consistent, coherent or credible broker/distribution – underwriting – pricing strategy bred the kind of “zombie nation” that could lead to confusion.

I, for one, can see the similarities with the following:In pursuit of ill-gotten gains

We all have a vision of the typical bus company, slowly moving people from place to place, going through the motions and showing a lot of fatigue.

Some of the elements that make an organization feel like a bus company

  • Aging equipment in need of a functional and design refresh
  • Tired staff, punching the time clock
  • By the book mentality, with no room for humanity or initiative
  • Treating all customers the same (poorly) and knowing (and caring) little or nothing about them
  • Acting like a monopoly, with no easy substitutes in sight
  • Lack of eye contact (between employees or customers)
  • Attitude that tomorrow will be just like today
  • No one to complain to, and if you persist, you’ll get a form letter

American Airlines has officially become a bus company, without a doubt. On a recent non-flight (it got cancelled) all of these elements occurred. Only one (1) act of human initiative would have made a huge difference.

More and more, I’m seeing bus company behaviour from previously great organizations. It’s a symptom of companies (and cultures) under long-term stress. These are all traits that occur when you allow standards to erode, when you embrace the status quo and when management gives up. You don’t need lots of money or squadrons of people to change this, you just need to care.

Ironically, there are new bus companies that are proving that there’s always a way to avoid this fate.