Free «British Airways Case» Essay Sample


Organizational behavior is basically concerned with actions, thoughts, emotions and feelings of the people while creating a work. However, understanding a person’s behavior is a challenge in itself, and understanding behavior of a group of people that is composed of different personalities is even more complex. At the end of the day, most of the organization’s work and processes are accomplished by people, either collectively or individually. This implies that aspect of organizational behavior is very essential as it entails understanding of behavior patterns of the people and the entire organization. Besides, organizational behavior is a vital aspect that can determine success in the organization. This paper seeks to provide critical analysis of the organizational behavior in British Airways. The paper will first look at the company’s profile, and then will proceed to look at the organizational processes such as, organizational communication, types of changes within the organization, organization of change and the role of leadership, organizational culture and conflict management. The final part of the paper will provide recommendations that British Airways should adopt and apply as guideline in order to improve its organizational processes.



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Company Profile

British Airways is the leading global airline in the United Kingdom and it offers both domestic and international cargo and passenger air services. Its airline route is comprised of about 150 destinations in more than 75 different countries. With its corporate headquarters in London, the company has Gatwick airport and London Heathrow as its main hubs that operate both the long and short haul flights (Datamonitor, 2005). In addition, the company has over 290 aircrafts, mainly Boeing jets and Airbus, with over 40, 000 employees (Hoovers, 2006).  

Buchanan and Hyczynski (2004) highlight that the organization’s chart is relatively flat as it only has one hierarchical level separating the company’s top management from the bottom-line employees. The company‘s management level positions are divided into ten different departments, which include Engineering, Investment and Alliance, Finance, Human Resource, Flight operation, Planning, Ground Operation, Law, Information Technology, and Commerce. The departmentalization makes the process of performance monitoring and standardization easier. Moreover, this makes it clear that the British Airways management focuses on labor specialization and has strict control regarding monitoring and feedback (Buchanan and Hyczynski, 2004).

Change within the Organization

Organizational experts highlight that the need for organizational change can be initiated by two factors, which are external trigger and internal trigger (Buchanan and Hyczynski, 2004). External trigger represents innovations and activities of the competitors, customers’ tastes and requirements, and government policies and legislation. Internal trigger, on the other hand, entails new product designs, new ideas and processes and the appointment of new management (Buchanan and Hyczynski, 2004). British Airways responded to these triggers by introducing the Privatization program. This was aimed at transforming the company’s ownership from the government to private, in an aim to enhance the company’s performance and increase its competitive ability. However, it is worth noting that good leadership behaviour and organizational culture result in organizational success (George & Jones, (2005). This is because the management introduces effective changes that will have a positive impact on the organization’s culture hence boosting the performance of the organization. Lewin’s model of change states that organizational changes occur in three stages; unfreezing, movement, and refreezing (Mullins, 1999). According to this model, the top management identifies forces of change, and issues regarding the decision-making and problem-solving processes. The top management explains how the organization will look like after change is implemented, in terms of processes and outputs (Mullins, 1999).

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The privatization initiative within the British Airways was aimed at generating a positive impact on the organization. However, this process was faced with various resistances, such as lack of financial support, considering the fact that the company was facing a financial problem at the time. The company had a long term debt worth over £ 1 billion and the government was unwilling to support the company to clear this debt for fear of criticism. Furthermore, the development of the airline deregulation that permits airline companies to make their own decisions, such as setting up fares, made it challenging for British Airways to conquer its competitors. This is why it was very important that British Airways initiates changes (Shibata, 1993), and from the company’s financial performance it is clear that privatization boosted its performance. The manner in which the company was conducting its operations and its long-term debt prompted that organizational leaders introduce changes to help the company improve its performance. It is important to note that the organization’s core values begin with the leadership, and will then develop into a leadership style (Carrell et all. 1997). The entire organization will therefore be led by the behavior of the leaders and the organization’s values.

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Application of the Lewin’s Model in British Airways Case

Lewin’s model of change states that there are three stages of the organization’s change process; unfreezing, movement, and refreezing. However, it is important to note that these three stages can generate both negative and positive impacts on the organizational structure, culture and on the employees (Mullins, 1999). However, basing on the Lewin’s model, during the unfreezing stage, it was necessary that British Airways unfreezes its behavior pattern in order to deal with resistance to change. Change was experienced at individual levels as the company was forced to come up other policies that would ensure the main goal is attained; For instance, the Downsizing of Workforce policy was established to help in restructuring the company. This also led to the reduction of the hierarchical levels, hence giving the operating people more autonomy, which made work easier and improved performance (Shibata, 1993). The policy on early retirement was also introduced on this stage to help reduce the number of employees. Furthermore, the appointment of new Chief Executive Officer led to introduction of a new organizational culture that laid more emphasis on customer service and marketing. In addition, various training programs were introduced, such as Managing People First, and Putting People First to help the managers and employees understand why change was required (Goodstein and Burke, 1991). However, change was required to facilitate transformation of the company from the process-driven company to a market-led company. Therefore, these programs aimed at creating awareness among the employees concerning competition and marketplace.

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On the second stage, movement, British Airways established programs and tactics to help the bottom line employees understand the vision of the top management. Several systems and structures were changed, for instance, the new bonus system. Permanent training centre was also established to enhance staff training (Goodstein and Burke, 1991).

On the final stage, refreezing, British Airways had to stabilize the changes by initiating strategies that will establish behavioral pattern within the organization. New performance appraisal system was introduced basing on the results and behavior to help enhance subordinate development and customer service. In addition, the company introduced symbols to help support the changes, for instance, refurbished aircrafts, new uniform for the employees and new corporate motto, “We fly to serve” (Goodstein and Burke, 1991).

Management and Leadership Style

The management style applied at British Airways depicts an inclination towards instructions and compliance with the provided stipulations. Since its history, British Airways has always been associated with the autocratic leadership style. The company maintains its focus towards its customers and does not have high concern for its employees. The company maintains an authoritarian and technically biased management style, and the relationships are basically formal. However, it is worth noting that this does not provide the implication that the organization does not value services offered by its employees, but there is no informality within its networks. The organization’s management believes that effective managerial action calls for observation of the organizational instructions (British Airways, 2006). Organizations accomplish their goals by designing, operating and communicating an organizational behavior. Behavior system of an organization defines its culture and structure, and illustrates the impact on the employees (Robbins, 1999).

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Organizational Communication

British Airways recognizes the vital role communication plays within the organization. It applies various tools, such as newsletters, and meetings to enhance this process and to make it transparent. Basically, the regular organizational meetings and news letters offer the employees the opportunity to communicate their concerns. It is important to note that the main focus of communication during such meetings revolves around business matters. The employees are not allowed to convey their issues to the top management, but can put up their concerns to their immediate bosses. To further boost the communication process and to ensure that this process becomes effective within the organization, the company launched a program that would make daily television broadcasts to its employees (British Airways, 2006).

Human Resources

Some time ago, British Airways was seen as a large, bureaucratic, inefficient and awkward organization. However, the privatization program initiated various changes that led to transformation of the corporate culture from the militaristic and bureaucratic to a market driven and service oriented organization ((British Airways, 2006). This also led to introduction of various changes within the Human Resources. For instance, the recruitment and job placement policy was introduced to help improve the employee recruitment process. The company came up with a recruitment methodology that was basically concerned with the candidates’ competencies, such as knowledge, skills and overall behavior. The competency-based interview helped the organization to identify the right employees who would fit the new system the organization had adopted. However, identification of the right employees implied that the organization was required to lay greater emphasis on strong leadership qualities, team working skills, customer service and high employee motivation (British Airways, 2006). The organization’s competence-based approach presupposes that the high performers within the organization are those who apply a mechanical approach. The organization states that new entrants have to go through group exercises, psychometric test, interview, role play and fact-finding before being recruited into the organization (British Airways, 2006).

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 Employee Training and Promotion Policy

It is important to note that the privatization program transformed British Airways into a more service oriented company that lays emphasis on the effective customer service. The company introduced new training program, Putting People First, directed at the bottom line employees. On the other hand, the Managing People First training program was directed at the management level employees. Basically, the aim of the training programs was to identify the dysfunction management style in the organization, and develop a new management style to make the company more competitive (Goodstein and Burke, 1991). Putting People First Program was introduced to help in creating awareness among the employees regarding expectations of the customers and enhance team work within the organization. On the other hand, the Managing People First program was aimed at making the management realize the vital role feedback plays within the organization, as far as organizational performance is concerned (British Airways, 2006). However, it is important to note that British Airways management believes that timely rewards play an important role when it comes to employee motivation (Tosti and Jackson, 2006). Some of the motivation tools applied by the organization include excellence awards, promotions, and bonuses. In addition, the management encourages innovativeness among its employees.

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Conflict Management and Decision Making

British Airways applies negations to deal with the organizational conflicts. However, the type of negotiation applied from one situation to another. Integrative bargaining is often opted for as it results into a win-win situation (Robbins, 1999). However, it is not a guarantee that a win-win situation will always be attained, since decisions are always made basing on the information collected regarding the conflict at hand. Thus, at times, a win-lose decision is also attained (Robbins, 1999). Regarding the decision making process, the organization maintains that organizational decisions have to be made basing on the three-fourth majority consent in the board room.

Organizational Culture

Organizational culture is an important aspect in any organization as it provides direction to the organization. It is a collection of values, traditions, beliefs, attitudes and policies that make up a pervasive context for all the activities within the organization (Mullins, 1999). It is basically considered a central part of the organization (Salama and Easterby-Smith, 1994). However, it is important to note that there has been a cultural change in the British Airways. Before the privatization of British Airways, its organizational culture was basically considered to be bureaucratic, authoritarian and technically biased. Furthermore, the relationship between management and the employees was impersonal. The management levels maintained formality as a way of discouraging personal relationships, and it disregarded participative management. The focus of the organization was towards safety operation and was inconsiderate of other important aspects such as marketing and customer service (Salama and Easterby-Smith, 1994). However, considering the fact that other companies within the airline industry were able to provide better services to their customers, they were able to attain a competitive advantage making the British Airways to run into crush. This made the company to run into various financial problems as it tried to ensure its continued operation in the market.

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However, after adoption of the privatization decision, British Airways introduced new values and beliefs through a new mission and corporate culture. New training programs and systems were established to help in stimulating the identified changes; for instance, participative management, customer focus, innovation, and informality.

Recommendations and Suggestions

An alternative approach British Airways should adopt while initiating change is the use of a change agent. This is a person that leads the organization’s change project by researching, building, defining, and planning business support (Bhardwaj, 2003). A change agent will be relevant to this organization to help sustain the current performance and manage future performance.  The application of the Human Resource policy called for the restructuring of various systems, such as, the payment system without involving and explaining to the employees why these changes were being done. However, a change agent plans, implements and experiences change with all stakeholders of the organization. Therefore, in the case of British Airways, the use of change agent will help engage the employees in the change process effectively and eliminate conflicts that might arise, for instance the 1990s workers’ strike.  However, it is important to note that the use of change agent is different from the Human Resource Policy since change agent will  A change agent can either be sourced from within the organization or can be hired from outside the organization. However, it is always recommended that an external change agent is hired as he may possess unique skills that can ensure effective change processes, such as working independently, ability to develop trust and good collaboration (Bachanan and Huczynski, 2004). On the contrary, an internal change agent can be biased and narrow-focused. Therefore, the change process can be effectively handled by an external change agent. In addition, the organizational should improve on its communication process, in all of its departments since this is one of the key processes that ensure organizational success. Besides, a good communication process provides room for generation of innovative ideas. The organization management should therefore maintain a direct communication channel with its bottom-line employees. Furthermore, the human resource department should improve on its relationship with the employees. While putting greater emphasis on the meeting the needs of customers, it is very essential that the organization’s workers, both the management and bottom-line employees are also given the same attention as this helps to boost their productivity levels significantly (Salama and Easterby-Smith, 1994).

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This study focused on organizational behaviour, leadership and change management, using British Airways as the case study. This is a leading global airline that has a good history as far as organizational change is concerned. The organization’s move to adopt the market-led approach was a significant move to ensure it becomes a competitive global airline. However, while the change process was important it was important for the company to come up with an effective approach to help facilitate the change process and deal with the resistance to change. The application of the Human Resource policy to facilitate the change process was not the best strategy as it generated conflicts among the employees. It is therefore very important that a number of alternatives for change are brought forward and analyzed, and the most appropriate is selected, and deal with the resistance. I believe an effective change process is grounded on good and transparent communication, the change is in line with the organization’s processes, and most important, the management takes the lead role of implementing change. Furthermore, the success of an organization is grounded on its culture.


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