The British Airways Swipe Card Debacle
The British Airways Swipe Card Debacle
On July 18, 2003, British Airways (BA) staff held a 24-hour strike (Palmer, Dunford, & Akin, 2009). This strike was in protest of a newly introduced system that would electronically record when staff started and fished work for the day. For BA management it was a way to “modernize” its systems, while “improving the efficient use of staff and resources (Palmer, Dunford, & Akin, 2009).” Unfortunately, BA staff felt that it would enable mangers a reason to manipulate their work hours and shifts. The poor attitudes and resistance to the change was due to a lack of communication between management and its staff.
Change Perspectives – Key issues The strike that was unauthorized by the labor union was still effective, a wildcat strike as it is commonly called, was caused by what staff felt was drastic changes to the employment system. Specifically, the point of contention was the upcoming introduction of the swipe card system – an electronic clocking-in system to record the start and end of every employee’s daily work (Palmer, Dunford, & Akin, 2009). In order to understand the wildcat strike committed by the BA Staff, it is important to note the key issues in each change perspective by the different parties involved.
•Organizational development (OD) – OD is a planned, organization-wide effort to increase an organization’s effectiveness and viability. Richard Beckhard feels that OD “aims at improving the effectiveness of the organization in order to help it achieve its mission (Palmer, Dunford, & Akin, 2009) and is “long term (generally two or three years) (Palmer, Dunford, & Akin, 2009).” BA management did try and improve the effectiveness of the organization, but failed on an “organization-wide” effort to increase effectiveness. This was because of the lack of conviction by staff that this system is ultimately better for the organization. OD focus of the change effort is changing the attitudes and behaviors of all staff. Obviously by BA staff’s reactions, this was disregarded.
•Sense-making – This is where people give meaning to experience. This draw on the interpreter image, which is when a change manager creates meaning for other organizational members, helping them make sense of various organizational events and actions (Palmer, Dunford, & Akin, 2009). Karl Weick argues these three assumptions:
Assumption of inertia – planned, intended change is necessary. However Weick suggests that the central role given to inertia is misplaced and results are a focus on structure rather than a focus on the processes through which organizational work occurs (Palmer, Dunford, & Akin, 2009).
Assumption is that a standardized change program is needed – This assumption fails to recognize drivers of organizational change (animation, direction, paying attention and updating, and respectful, candid interaction). These drivers are sense-making perspectives that assume, “that change engages efforts to make sense of events that don’t fit together (Palmer, Dunford, & Akin, 2009).”
Assumption is that of unfreezing – organizations suffer from inertia and need to be “unfrozen.” Yet it may already be unfrozen because change is continuous and emergent. If they try to unfreeze more, it could disrupt what is already working. Sense-making in the wildcat strike didn’t help its staff give meaning to the new swipe card system. The union felt that it was a lack of adequate consultation with affected staff that was a reason for the strike.
•Change Management (CM) – CM is a structured approach to shifting/transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a desired future state. CM uses the director image, which is based on an image of management as control and outcomes being achievable (Palmer, Dunford, & Akin, 2009). There are many models that can be used, but they commonly focus on achievable large-scale, transformational change. Goshal and Bartlett focuses on three distinct, interrelated transformational change phases: oRationalization
oRevitalization oRegeneration BA management felt that it needed to streamline company operations (rationalization) by starting the swipe card system, yet they didn’t keep tensions down (regeneration). Even though many of the models contain variation and flexibility, BA staff wasn’t flexible till they were threatened by the walkout and future walkouts.
•Contingency – This approach is one that argues that the style of change will depend on the scale of the change and the receptiveness of organizational members (Palmer, Dunford, & Akin, 2009). The contingency approach thinks of change as “it depends.” This means you have to have an alternative it one type of change doesn’t work. This is where BA staff failed at when stating they were implementing the new swipe card system. When the walkout occurred BA didn’t have an alternative plan, which caused the loss of approximately 40 million.
•Processual – means using a method or particular process. One way of doing this is to examine the context of change in order to identify sources of continuity as well as performance gaps and misfits (Palmer, Dunford, & Akin, 2009). It is important to look at external and internal contexts. It is important to look at stages and it appeared that BA management didn’t do this initially in that they didn’t look at the internal and external contexts within the organization. However, by coming to an agreement with the unions after the walkout was a step in the right direction. Change consultant for BA management
As a consultant to BA management it is first important to point out what went wrong in the way they “tried” to implement the program. BA over the previous two years, had restructured and in the process cut 13,000 jobs (Palmer, Dunford, & Akin, 2009). With these jobs cut, there were side effects ranging from departure delays, to sick leave increasing. When BA management introduced the swipe card system it was the last straw. They got angry, thinking that management wanted to again “shake” things up, changing work hours and lower pay. This was particularly difficult for women who balanced work and home. The way it was implemented wasn’t just about implementing in the summer and high travel time, but the lack of communication prior to implementing. This is what ultimately led to the strike.
It is important to learn from each change perspective. In OD it “aims at improving the effectiveness of the organization in order to help it achieve its mission (Palmer, Dunford, & Akin, 2009).” However it is an organizational effort, one not that management believes in. To make this work, it was imperative that all staff have buy-in and that is by educating. It was important to give staff the understanding that this swipe card program was to improve the efficient use of staff and resources. With the sensitivity of staff with the current restructure, any change is going to be touchy.
It is important to help them have meaning (sense-making) to why this change was needed. It is not just about a more efficient system, but also to modernize and keep up with competing airlines. If the staff understands the meaning, it will help them buy-in. It may need time, which is what OD believes, but if you start discussions early that will help. It is important to talk to the staff (union) prior to implementing any change in work conditions. If there were discussions from both groups, they would have understood both sides concerns and come up with a solution. Using the contingency approach, they may have came up with different timelines or came to a mutual agreement. Best change perspective
The one change perspective that provides the best way of understanding the swipe card issue is the sense-making approach. This is because it is drawing on the interpreter image of managing organizational change. The interpreter image of change focuses on creating meaning for organizational members is important “to be able to provide legitimate arguments and reasons why their actions fit within the situation and should be viewed as legitimate (Palmer, Dunford, & Akin, 2009).” This would have helped in the implementation of the swipe card. To be a good change manager it is their role as interpreters to dominate the stories and meanings of the specific change – as in the reason for the swipe cards.
The sense-making looks less at a set prescription for managers of change, but an understanding of how to proceed (Palmer, Dunford, & Akin, 2009). It recognizes that change is not perfect and people will not always agree, this finding the best approach and helping to make sense and meaning for employees. In the case of BA management and the swipe care, they had opposition, but didn’t give meaning to BA staff on why it was important. The meaning was never conveyed and they used a “poor” director image approach, which failed. Even though the best approach is sense-making, all change perspectives could have been used during this process. Conclusion
The poor attitudes and resistance to the swipe card by the BA staff was directly related to the poor implementation of the program by BA management. The lack of communication and understanding of change perspectives and images resulted in the walkout by staff. If they had communicated issues prior to getting notice of a short deadline and helped staff understand the meaning behind it, it could have prevented the loss of money and mistrust between staff and management. Unfortunately it took a threat to get management to discuss and come to a tentative agreement on delaying the swipe card system. This will hopefully open the eyes of management to work on change perspectives in the future, avoiding future walkouts and mistrust with staff.
Subject: British Airways,
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 26 December 2016
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