Recently I had the great opportunity to deliver a keynote to managers of a legacy airline carrier. For a group just emerging from bankruptcy and a slew of wage concessions, the sense of optimism and spirit in the room was remarkable.
As I watched and listened to the folks interacting with each other before my remarks, it became clear that no corporate feel-good initiative had manufactured this enthusiasm. Rather it was a manifestation of the deep and enduring pride the individuals felt for the airline. Slipping into bankruptcy had embarrassed them, and they took it very personally. You could feel the unspoken mantra in the room almost shouting at you, "We will never let something like that happen again."
In an industry as volatile as air travel, that's a tough prediction to make, but if any management team can pull it off, I left convinced these several hundred folks have the right stuff to do so.
I also left reminded again of a most valuable lesson: incentives and punishments can never be as effective in shaping employee behavior and commitment as the natural force of employee pride in the product you offer and the environment in which they work.