E-Mail Chatter at Boeing: Oops!

It remains unclear to the Barometer why employees feel free to spout off in e-mails. Feel free to schedule meetings, ask questions about shipments, and even grouse about the break room mess or someone swiping your lunch from the fridge. However, yammering away on e-mail about disagreements on product designs, development, and evolving customer issues may be a risky proposition.

The latest lesson on e-mail dangers comes from exchanges that involved Boeing employees, including the 737MAX chief technical pilot who wrote (and sent) the following:”I want to stress the importance of holding firm that there will not be any type of simulator training required. Boeing will not allow that to happen. We’ll go toe to toe with any regulator who tries to make that a requirement.”

And there was this response from an employee as the difficulties in developing simulators for training emerged, “Our arrogance is our demise.” Ouch.

Boeing and Holman Jenkins Jr. of the Wall Street Journal have taken a “move along, folks, nothing to see here” approach to the e-mails. Here’s some convoluted reasoning: The e-mails on training have nothing to do with design. The training was necessary to compensate for the design issues with the plane. It seems that the training/simulator folks came late to the 737MAX debacle. The chatter came from other segments of the company. Mr. Jenkins wonders where these employees were in the design phase — the Barometer guesses they were working in other parts of the company. Not all employees were in on the design discussions or production. They came late, too late, but not by design it were, and certainly were not compensating for their supposed failure to speak up earlier.

The chatter about training shows knowledge at that point of an issue with design that had to be fixed. Yet, the fix was not imminent. There is no good way to look at the admissions in the “training” e-mails.

And here’s one more e-mail defense of Boeing that is one for the textbooks: There were 10 million safe landings and only 2 crashes. True enough, but, as the Barometer always explains to students, “Dying customers is always bad for business,” whether by design or training.

Holman Jenkins, Jr., “Boeing Emails Explain Nothing,” Wall Street Journal,” January 15, 2020, p. A15.

Andy Pasztor and Alison Sider, “Chatter at Boeing Undercuts Its Defense of MAX Stance,”Wall Street Journal,” January 11, 2020, p. A12.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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