The scenario upon which this paper is based relates to the British Airways Swipe Card Debacle case study from the textbook, Managing Organizational Change: A Multiple Perspective Approach (Akin, Dunford, & Palmer, 2009). The purpose of this paper is to analyze and discuss the organizational change associated to the implementation of a new swipe card system that led to strike of over 250 British Airways check-in staff, losing 40 million pounds and negatively effecting the company’s reputation. Additionally, this paper will relate the case study to several change approaches (organizational development, sense-making, change management, contingency, and processual) and identify key issues. Additionally, this paper will examine the case study from my perspective, as if I were a hired change consultant for British Airways responsible for providing advise and recommendations on how to avoid this type of situation. Additionally, as a change consultant, I provide my recommendation as to what possible change approach or combinations of a change approach would have been best to use for the swipe card change initiative.
Change Perspective and Key Issues
Prior to going into being able to effectively provide advise and recommendations on this case study, it is first important to discuss aspects of different change approaches. Additionally, relate key issues of the swipe card debacle to these change approaches. With that, this section paper will focus on identify specific aspects of the following change approaches and how these aspects relate to the case study: organizational development, sense-making, change management, contingency, and processual.
Organizational Development Approach
The organizational development change approach is a well thought through and thoroughly planned change approach that focuses on staff development. Additionally, one of the key aspects to the organizational development approach is the importance placed on the need to form groups and teams, which work together to form the key focus for change (Akin, Dunford, & Palmer, 2009). Unfortunately, this very important characteristic of organizational development approach was truly not used as part of the change approach for the swipe card implementation. For instance, if groups and teams were created to form the key focus for the change, none of the 250 check-in staff were invited to participate.
The sense-making approach is very similar to Kurt Lewin’s organizational change model. At a high-level, this model has three primary stages known as Unfreeze (identifying where the company is at, in relation to environmental change and organizational structure), Change (period of time where the change is being made), and Refreeze (change is complete and the organization has embedded the change within its culture) (Levasseur, 2001). However, there is one slight difference with the sense-making approach, in that the second stage is more the about rebalance where the organization balances the external environment with its internal environment. An example of a key issue associated to this from the case study is the fact that it appears those responsible for the Future Size and Shape recovery program, did not take the first stage into consideration. More specifically, the group did not factor in how the company was still recovering from environmental changes such as, 9/11, Iraqi war, and SARS. Additionally, did not consider if this was the right time for this type of change.
Change Management Approach
There are several different change management approaches but the one focused on within this paper is the change management approach Ten Commandments approach, developed by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Barry A. Stein, and Todd D. Jick. In the book, The Challenges of Organizational Change, Kanter, Stein, and Jick elaborate on what they believe to be the necessary steps to effectively implement change within an organization. One of these steps, which is something that was not executed in the swipe card debacle, is the step to create a shared vision. While the Future Size and Shape project team may have had a shared vision of the swipe card change, this same vision was definitely not shared by the 250 check-in staff.
Similar to the change management approach, the contingency approach has many different variations. For instance, one of these approaches is categorized into the following four ideal types: commanding (change intervention, directed by leadership and is typically driven by the need to implement quickly and abruptly), engineering (change agent, who also acts as an analyst implements the change along with those who designing the change to process and systems), teaching (third party consultants work with internal staff to assist with identify new ways of operation and is change intervention that is a long-term plan), and socializing (democratic approach that is a gradual change process approach) (Huy, 2001). Each of these approaches are acceptable but may not all work in every type of situation. For instance, within the British Airways case study, it seems as though the project team chose to utilize the commanding approach for the implementation of the swipe cards. The check-in staff were completely resistant to not only the swipe card change but were also resistant to the actual approach taken to implement that change.
Similar to the sense-making approach, the processual approach also looks at the relationship of external and internal environments. However, with the processual approach, it focuses on the constraints and opportunities of both environments. Within the case study, the project team did not take into consideration how the external environment impacts the internal environment and how the internal environment also effects the staff. For instance, the staff being on edge and untrusting of change was a result situations and changes both internally (one forth reduction in staff) and externally (environmental jolts like inroads on its markets from budget competitors). The combination of these situations, led to the staff being fearful and overreacting to the possibility that the new swipe card process could lead to another reduction in staff.
As a change consultant for British Airways, I would provide the following list of lessons learned from the swipe card debacle: lack in including those directly affected by change can lead to staff being uncomfortable and uncertain about a change; lack of taking internal and external environments into consideration is not fully understanding the cumulative effect that these have on the staff; taking a commanding approach to implement change can lead to staff disagreeing with the way a change is being managed; and lack of communication and gaining buy-in on change can led staff to believe that the change could have negative downstream impact.
In order to prevent this in the future, I would advise them to take a different approach by having staff be more involved with projects and include them as part of the project teams. Additionally, allowing the staff time to absorb the fact that there will be changes in the future and giving them a platform to be able to ask questions. In addition to providing the staff a platform, leadership also needs to encourage the staff to ask questions and ensure them that there will not be any backlash for those who do have questions about the change. Lastly, as a change consultant, I would emphasis the importance viewing the organization from a birds-eye view (meaning that leadership the context of the situation from an internal and external perspective). If they would have stepped back and looked all the external and internal factors prior to implementing the swipe card change, they may have seen that implementing change over a holiday weekend might not be the best time, they might have identify staff moral being low due to internal reduction in force, and the fact that the company was struggling to recover from other external environmental jolts.
While there are many change approaches that may be suitable for this type of change initiative, it is my opinion that the best approach for this change would have been to use the Ten Commandments change management process. The reason for this is that it would have resolved and possibly prevented the reaction that staff had towards the implementation of swipe card because this change approach includes creating a shared vision, involving staff, having the support of leadership and political sponsorship, and developing an implementation plan (Barry, Kanter, & Jick, 1992).
Based on the information provided in the case study about the swipe card debacle at British Airways and comparing key issues to various change approaches, it can be seen that there are many areas where management taken a different approach to the change. If a different approach was taken, it could have easily lead to a successful swipe card implementation versus the outcome that lead to the 250-check in staff, losing 40 million pounds and negatively effecting the company’s reputation.
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Kanter, R. M., Stein, B. A., & Jick, T. D. (1992). The challenge of organizational change. New York, NY: Free Press. Levasseur, R. E. (2001). People Skills:Change Management Tools–Lewin’s Change Model. Interfaces, 31(4), 71.