Interventions by Product Plan
A true hallmark of good customer service is on-time arrival of flights and so the change managers set a goal to improve on this parameter. Due to delayed arrivals which were typically a result of poor coordination among employees, Continental was losing $5 millions every year. Change managers devised a plan that continental and the employees would equally share the benefits that result from on-time arrivals. It would give away $ 2. 5 millions to employees if on-time performance was good.
It worked out to $ 65 per month per employee. It worked out successfully. Bethune liberally paid this incentive. When other airlines also kept track of this parameter by their own incentive schemes, Continental, to keep its rank among first three airlines, raised its incentive to $100 and it performed well on this almost 11 out of 12 months in a year. It also improved baggage handling, and ranked among the top three airlines in fewest number of baggage complaints. The challenge was in explaining the importance of baggage handling.
The change managers convinced the employees that their service would be counted as reliable only when planes departed on time with full supply of meals, all passengers and all their bags- not just flight arriving on the scheduled time. Another area where improvement had to be made was reservations and the time taken to complete the transactions. Continental increased its call capacity by adding more agents besides installing the best software to receive calls and make reservations. Food and drinks served were personally tested and approved by Bethune and Brenneman. In-flight phones were installed.
Music was played when passengers entered the planes. Interventions in People Plan Change involves people and people react in different and unpredictable ways. ( Balogun, 1999). People’ concerns have to be understood and their support enlisted. Communications should be designed in this direction. The same line of thought was adopted by Continental’s change managers. Bethune and Brenneman gave free rein to the employees by destroying all rulebooks, though there was the risk that they would misuse the freedom. They took a calculated risk and thought that was the only way to build trust between employees and management.
But, as expected, the productivity improved and thus Continental paid employees $545 million in profit-sharing bonuses. To help employees what was expected of each, checklists were created for important jobs; a job broken into a series of steps appeared easy to the employees and facilitated their effective performance. Being convinced of the importance of communications in a change programme, the change team made extensive arrangements to help effective communication happen between employees and executives. Bethune was available on phone to anybody. There were two voice mail numbers in Bethune’s office.
There was also a hotline for information on employee pay, benefits and so on. Besides, every employee was kept up-to-date on company developments through emails, intranets, a weekly three-minute voice mail message from Bethune and so on. There was an employee newsletter and a quarterly publication. There were some 600 bulletin boards set in all places where employees had to a chance to see. Everything was made transparent. Monthly open houses were held so that any question could be asked of Bethune by anybody. Bethune answered every question which convinced employees of the change mangers’ true intentions.
The change managers insisted that employee respected one another. Dignity and Respect became the company’s slogan for 1996. Team work was emphasised. It was also insisted that an employee should treat other employees as customers. From January 2005, high level executives started ranking all managers on a 1-4 scale on quality of work, team work and so on. They were given chance to improve. Those who kept on scoring a 4 rating ( low score ) were dismissed. A number of outsiders were recruited to fill important positions. Trusted acquaintances were asked for candidates.
Attractive salary and performance-oriented bonuses were offered to the recruits. The change management team did not tolerate people engaged in power plays, backstabbing and jockeying for positions. On the other hand, he paid bonuses much before the schedule as surprise gifts. He insisted that there should be teamwork especially in flight scheduling, flight operations and their maintenance; Bethune insisted that people in marketing, scheduling and flight operations, and aircraft maintenance should form teams to arrive at schedules that were the best from all perspectives.
For a perfect attendance, $50 gift certificates were awarded once every six months. There was a lottery system to give Ford cars to the winners among those awarded gift certificate for perfect attendance. 83 vehicles were distributed till December 2000. Bethune insisted that metrics should be created for every job and operation, and without such measures, management would fail. It was impressed on all employees that performance targets should be raised after every achievement.