Case History: Guiding Airline to Smooth Skies
Objective: The airline industry was tasked by the Department of Transportation to develop a Code of Customer Service in 2000 due to the rising customer complaints and increasing safety concerns.
In order to be compliant with the new FAA/DOT requirements and to rebuild their organization to be more effective, Dr. Pastor worked with the leadership of this airline to create a comprehensive report and to provide actionable feedback. The ultimate goal was to create a common organizational vision and to outline the steps ahead that were required to support change and achieve compliance. In the process, it was ultimately necessary to rebuild the business infrastructure to achieve the goals.
*Due to the highly sensitive nature of this project, the name of the airline is withheld to protect the confidentiality of the client.
Joan worked with this airline to assess several of their core processes using employee and management facilitated workshops, interviews, on-site observations and audits. The airline had recently suffered a series of flight delays as well as a devastating plane crash, so it was clear that they needed to assess the current processes and create new methods of operation, addressing customer service, safety and reputation issues.
Focus groups were used to gather and share information in the initial stages of this project.
- Focus groups were set up, consisting of decision-makers and directors in all major areas of operations, including customer service, mechanical maintenance, air traffic controllers and communication/signage.
- In an attempt to build trust and encourage collaboration, focus group participants were encouraged to share their perspectives, including their understanding of the current processes, the nature of their team’s roles and functions, obstacles to their performance and recommendations for process improvements.
- Focus group participants were asked to jointly discuss the strategic environment, including their understanding of a common organizational vision. Subsequently, they discussed the progress their teams were making toward the achievement of these goals and they were also asked to identify the existing gaps.
- Next, individual follow-up meetings were conducted to further explore some of the priority issues, opportunities and challenges that were raised in the focus groups.
The discovery and analytical process was structured in specific steps.
- Outline the goal or vision for each team and for the larger organization.
- Determine the status and discuss the progress each team had made toward achievement of this goal. “Where are you?”
- Compare the two elements, goals vs. status, and identify the gaps. “What needs to happen?”
- Conduct an assessment to guide the creation and implementation of a new plan, to achieve measurable results.
As a result of the information and insights gained during the meetings, interviews, exercises and assessments, Dr. Pastor was able to resolve core ongoing problems and implement needed changes in the management and organizational structure.
Although the group was initially reluctant to discuss their challenges, as the teams mistrusted each other, Dr. Pastor was able to eventually encourage the employees to open up and communicated. As a result, the group began to work together.
- According to the employees, much of the mistrust was generated by the existence of an organizational “cowboy culture”.
- It was discovered that there was a need to build awareness and increase communication between teams, as teams were often unaware of the specific functions performed or challenges faced by their counterparts.
- When Dr. Pastor introduced the teams to the nature of each other’s roles and job functions, they became more comfortable in working with other teams and formulating joint processes to address customer service and mechanical/safety problems.
Dr. Pastor led the groups in an effort to document the existing processes, in order to recommend changes to increase efficiency and effectiveness.
- She discovered that there were no clear processes in place to guide their resolution of flight delays and other customer service issues. It was customary that each team and each individual handled the scenarios differently.
- Working with the focus groups and the leaders, she helped to develop a plan to insure and guide organizational growth. This resulted in a rebuilding of the business infrastructure.
Since the performance appraisal system was also identified during the interviews as a key factor in driving critical employee mistakes, Dr. Pastor reviewed and modified the current system.
- She created a plan and recommended implementation of a new performance appraisal metrics that solved this problem.
- The new metrics eliminated incentives to take short-cuts in order to meet their own, or their supervisor’s, performance goals.
A major corporate restructuring and complete process re-engineering was mapped out for the leaders and decision-makers. Dr. Pastor ultimately provided an extensive report and valuable feedback to the airline leadership. She recommended ways to improve the processes, based upon feedback gathered from the focus groups, assessments and individual interviews. The focus groups highlighted key areas that required attention and improvement, including collaboration, communication, trust and performance metrics. It was clear that the airline needed a plan in place to insure and guide their growth.
Ultimately, Dr. Pastor’s report provided the airline with a comprehensive plan to achieve compliance with Department of Transportation requirements. The final report detailed actionable plans for rebuilding the business infrastructure. It outlined steps to collaborate, communicate, assess and to improve overall organizational performance. Dr. Pastor outlined a viable and compliant strategy to effectively and efficiently address key customer service issues and to reduce safety concerns for this airline. The resultant processes supported this goal by providing improved methods to communicate plane delays, streamline boarding processes and minimize safety challenges.