Case Study: British Airways

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Changing nature of employment relations in British Airways

Changing nature of employment relations in British Airways

Q1- To contrast the changes in employment relations between the initiatives pursued by the company in the 1980s with those since the mid 1990s and particularly those in the past three years.

Ans. There has been considerable debate concerning whether culture can actively be managed, much of the debate centring on the extent to which a culture can be modified to resemble a pre-stated ideal (Brown 1998 Pp. 13).

It is commonly argued that Human Resource professionals are able to play a crucial role in managing key elements of culture. Lewin describes this stage as the Refreezing where change is stabilised by introducing the new responses into the personalities concerned (Barsoux, J 1997 Pp. 13-17 ').

But the most impressive aspect of BA's cultural change was not so much the sophistication of the PPF programme itself, but the extent to which other employment policies and practices were changed to fit the 'new' culture. Refreezing was aided by a whole series of training programmes throughout the 80's and 90's (Brown 1998). Not only were team briefing and team workings introduced but these developed and refined with TQM, autonomous team working and multi-skilling introduced in many areas.

Atkinson's model of flexible working patterns was introduced. This consisted of part-time and subcontractors which extended to most aspects of BA's operations. A report by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux called Flexibility Abused (1997), shows how flexibility can often take the form of 'worker insecurity'. One of the main reasons for this is introduction in contractual arrangements. This includes replacement of full-time by part-time.

Despite BA's attempting a great deal of effort into encouraging certain behaviours, staff did not base its employment policies and practices around the new culture. Therefore within Lunberg's model, BA failed to institutionalise the changes through their Stabilisation Action Plans. Management techniques were certainly impressive, but not everyone benefited from them. In areas such as marketing, the criteria for choosing Managers had changed from technical to Management skills and abilities.

However, some Managers still preferred recruiting the old fashioned way, promoting and selecting people who were good Technicians, therefore 'not the best fit' was achieved and BA had difficulties maintaining change. In Lewins composite model, rites of integration suggest there should be a conflict reduction, thus consolidate the change process. This was clearly not evident. Managers continued to resist change. This was also evident in appraisal systems and performance related pay. Despite the HR department designing the control systems to fit the new cultures and their array of soft human resource, many managers continued to reward employees using the old values. It appears here that they had failed, due to these control systems merely providing an interface between human behaviour and the very fact that the process of management had its informal group process with its own set of norms, made this unfreezing stage unsuccessful.

The driving forces for change were identified by Anderson Consulting and Conference ...
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