Change Management Success Stories

Change Management Success Stories - Part 1
British Airways

Over the past five weeks, we’ve looked at various aspects of change management - from what it is, to how to implement it, and everything in between. But how do we know that it works?  This week, we begin to take a look at major companies that have used change management successfully. 


Leading up to 1981, British Airways (BA) was failing miserably. They were experiencing a number of problems from the top levels of the company on down: a merger that led to overstaffing and cultural differences among employees, a reputation for some of the worst customer service in the industry, and losing money at an alarming rate. Change was obviously necessary.

First, change at BA started at the top with new leadership. They decided that an entire restructuring was necessary and that a change management plan would be the best way to accomplish their goals. The first couple of years, the plan was about survival - voluntary reductions in workforce, temporarily freezing pay increases, cutting routes, etc. Then they got to work making bigger, lasting changes.

British Airways needed to seriously readjust their public image, so two major areas of focus were advertising and customer service. They increased their advertising budget for 1983-1984 by over £10 million and launched new advertising campaigns. Also in 1983, a steering committee was created to focus on the airline’s customer service. They saw that it was necessary to reinforce the need for change and to change the culture within the company. Two major programs were initiated by this committee:

●      Putting People First (PPF) - designed to change the way people interacted with each other, leading to better relationships within the company and better customer service

○      Many of BA’s employees were veterans and had a militaristic view of how to operate. This included major emphasis on getting the job done, but not necessarily on positive interactions with other people while doing the job. PPF challenged this outlook, as well as the deeply ingrained view of hierarchy that had been consistent in BA until this point.

○      Employees began wearing lapel pins with the motto “We’re putting people first” inscribed on them. This was meant as a visual reminder to be more positive, even in stressful situations.

○      All employees (about 40,000 people) went through this program. BA’s CEO, Colin Marshall, attended 95% of these trainings, demonstrating his commitment to what was being taught.

●      Managing People First (MPF) - an offshoot of PPF that was targeted at managers and stressed the importance of factors such as trust, leadership, and feedback.

These two programs, as well as others implemented to continue the work started by PPF and MPF, helped improve employee relationships and employee satisfaction. This helped make employees more receptive to other changes occurring within the company.

British Airways continued to implement changes in other areas as well, such as unveiling new employee uniforms as a visual reminder that they were making big, positive changes. The changes discussed here, as well as other shifts within the company, were enough to turn the failing airline around into the profitable airline it operates as today.


So, what can you take away from this?
Among other things, remember that managers are role models.

Colin Marshall, CEO of British Airways, went to where his staff was working in terminals and talked to them about the changes and reinforcing what he wanted to see the company become. He attended almost all of the PPF seminars to stress their importance and ensure that the new culture was being created. Marshall is an excellent example of leading change from the top.