What’s in the Aloha name? What’s in your name?

2010 Update: I made the decision to bring Say “Alaka‘i” here to Talking Story in late May of 2010 when the Honolulu Advertiser, where the blog previously appeared, was merged with the Star Bulletin (Read more at Say “Alaka‘i” is Returning to the Mothership).

Therefore, the post appearing below is a copy of the one which had originally appeared there on November 30, 2008, so we will be able to reference it in the future when the original url it had been published on is no more…

Hibiscus

What’s in the Aloha name? What’s in your name?

As promised, Sundays here will be about your questions and comments. From an email you had sent me (a couple actually, thus a grouping of them into a single sentence):

“Rosa, you have shared your feelings about the end to Aloha Airlines passenger service before, and I am wondering; how do you feel about the prospect of go! Airlines now flying under the Aloha name?”

In a single sentence, I don’t understand why they would want to.

Then again, if it means they aspire to live, work, manage and lead honoring the name ‘Aloha’ as the rootstock value of our islands’ heritage, culture, and sense of place, I’m all for it.

Will that happen?
Aloha is quite a name to live up to, and I have VERY high expectations of any company who brands themselves with what I consider to be the universal value of unconditional love and acceptance:

“Every single day, somewhere in the world, Aloha comes to life. As it lives and breathes within us, it defines the epitome of sincere, gracious, and intuitively perfect customer service given from one person to another.”
This genuine connection is the Aloha Spirit Hawai‘i is known for.
Managing with Aloha, Bringing Hawai‘i’s Universal Values to the Art of Business

Sense of Place Responsibility

It’s not just go! Airlines who gives me pause. I will return to the question specifically about go! in a moment, however this is a business case study that all leaders could be learning from. It is one I am hoping will have all leaders asking themselves, “Do we live up to our company name every single day, and in every possible way?”

Take a look in the phone book and you will see that Aloha is being used as a name for dozens of local businesses. On the Big Island alone (the phone book I happened to grab) there are two full pages of listings, including Aloha Auto Glass, Aloha Lighting & Design, Aloha Coast Realty LLC, Aloha Fence Co., Aloha Driving Academy, Aloha Plus Storage & Packaging, and how about this one to really drive the point home: Aloha Hawaiian Connection Services.

My question for each and every one of them is this: Does YOUR name represent the values you stand for as a business, and as a company with the ‘sense of place responsibility’ to the Hawai‘i community as the place where you conduct your business?

All businesses have a basic responsibility to the community in which they operate: It is a responsibility with upholding the values that community considers sacred. To fulfill this responsibility (i.e. their Kuleana), they must first understand their Sense of Place, best defined I think, by Dr. George Kanahele as “The feel FOR a place, and the feel OF a place.”

Place nurtures and sustains us; it shapes our experiences and lends cultural richness to life. Place cradles the basic value set of all who are the stakeholders of a business: employees and partners, vendors and suppliers, stockholders and financiers, customers and industry competitors. There is no greater example of this in Hawai‘i than our value of Aloha; talk about a “value the community considers sacred.”

Think of everything you consider to be involved with “working in my neighborhood.” Sense of Place is about greater community locally and connectivity globally. It is saying thank you, and engaging at a higher level with those people and places which have gotten you this far, and continue to nourish you daily in a multitude of tiny ways that collectively are absolutely HUGE factors in your success. It is giving back.

Why is this so important? Because a business without a community is like a fish without water; it cannot survive.

Therefore, if a business is to promote culturally-sensitive work process and practice, they must live it, operating their business by managing with Aloha, as the hallmark value of our Hawai‘i culture —and exponentially so if they work with Aloha as their brand name. I feel it then their responsibility to bring a Hawaiian awareness and sensibility to all they do, for not only do they conduct their business within the communities of Hawai‘i, day-by-day they work and live within her ‘Ohana, boldly claiming to represent our values on our behalf.

So back to those emails you’d sent me. My first question becomes about the intentions that go! Airlines has with their proposition to assume the Aloha name.

The go! Case Study

I presently see this recent go! proposal as an idea in testing, with the media an eager and willing participant: go! is testing the market perceptions of their idea before they make a leadership decision on if they will run with it, or ‘nobly’ let it die. (I have nobly in quotes because I am being sarcastic; I see nobility differently.)

For those who are new to me and my writing, this article will give you my feelings on the events concerning Aloha Airlines this past March: Working Beyond Their Means. I suspect it is the “before” those who’d written to me were referring to. I had also mentioned Molokai Ranch in my article, and this is the gist of what I had written there:

“While the two stories differ quite a bit, both have something in common: Business models that just didn’t work. As I see it, [continuing to operate with] broken business models are about as irresponsible and unethical as being in business can get.”
Working Beyond Their Means

Let me say that I have not yet studied up on all the different aspects of this latest chapter in the go! Airlines story. Further, I have never flown with go! or with Mesa Airlines, and have no first-hand experience with if or how their values do play out in the customer service they deliver, and I have not had the opportunity of engaging with them or any of their employees. That said, my feelings are these:

  • Best case scenario, I see their proposition to assume the Aloha Airlines name, as a leadership idea now in testing; they are still within their decision-making process with what amounts to a hefty “What if?” kind of question. After you make a decision, you have to manage its consequences, projecting what they will be.
  • I started by saying that I don’t understand why they would want to even consider it, because from my very limited standpoint (i.e. not knowing all the facts involved) there are far more items in the ‘con’ column than the ‘pro’ column. As substantial as it is, I largely see the past baggage which comes with the Aloha Airlines name as paling in comparison to the new story they would have to write for themselves in fulfilling the value of Aloha: Remember too, that they already have a go! history that their existing staff and other stakeholders now subscribe to: Why do they want to discard that and essentially start over?
  • I don’t think most of my feelings about their brash presumptuousness with seizing Aloha as a name are that much different from most of Hawai‘i; and like you reading, we are their potential customers. Our perceptions are their reality and they will have to deal with them, ultimately getting us to buy from them. That’s a tall order, with cheap fares an incomplete delivery answer at best.
  • Therefore, I can’t help suspecting the whole thing is a publicity stunt in that old promotional belief (that should die) that “any publicity is good publicity. It is good to be controversial every so often to keep people aware of you.” I hope I’m wrong, for I hate thinking that people believe that when there are so many other better ways to promote your brand.

Let’s bring this back to you.

As far as Say “Alaka‘i” is concerned, this latest development is a great case study for understanding our management and leadership definitions, talking about how they apply, and having the value-based conversations which go with those scenarios.

go! Airlines has given all managers in Hawai‘i a fantastic meeting agenda.

Regardless of the business you are in, I encourage all managers and leaders to bring it up in their staff meetings as a great talk-story to have and to learn from. Ask questions, and listen to what your staff has to say. Like this:

  1. I know you have all heard about go! Airlines proposing to operate under the Aloha name, what do you think about that?
  2. What values and expectations do you think our customer associates with our name?
  3. What values and expectations do you think your families and friends in the community associate with our name?
  4. Are those expectations easy for you to live up to each day working here?
  5. Is our name our brand? What is the difference?

And then, all your notes taken, spend the rest of your time on this statement and question:

Statement: Those people are all very important to us, and their perceptions are our reality.
Question: What should we be doing about this?

Postscript: You can find the news story by The Honolulu Advertiser here:
Aloha Airlines name may return to Hawaii skies in Mesa deal.
Lawsuit settlement allows go! to assume name of iconic airline

by Advertiser Staff writer Andrew Gomes