Lessons In Leading Change: BA0984 To Berlin – The Flight That Never Was

Today I was meant to be in Berlin as a keynote speaker at a conference for Advanced Project Management. I was speaking on ‘eNgaging Change – Leading Change Effectively’. Unfortunately, due to the effect of fog on flights from Heathrow yesterday, my flight was eventually cancelled and there was no availability on flights this morning to enable me to arrive in time to speak.

The events of yesterday however, demonstrated how to deliver ineffective change with some key lessons that I thought those in the project management community may find of value.  This article is therefore about the lack of strong leadership, lack of team skills and lack of effective engagement with stakeholders across the 5 key people-related elements of change.

The Background Before The Lessons

06.30: Up, showered, dressed and packed, time for some breakfast

07.30: Hoppa bus from the hotel to Heathrow Terminal 5 is quarter to and past the hour. My flight is 12.30. Check-in for European flights is 2-hrs so time to send off some emails before leaving.

Pea-souper

Pea-souper

07.46: Check BA mobile app to find out flight delayed to 13.52. I look out of the window and can see why? Check-out at the hotel is not until 12.00 so an opportunity to stay at the hotel and work.

09.56: Check BA mobile app to find out flight delayed to 14.31

10.58: Check BA mobile app to find out flight delayed to 15.40

11.15: Head to airport, check-in suitcase, through passport control to join the mass of people who are waiting to fly or have had flights delayed. Seating is at a premium.

14.00: Departures board show that flights are leaving but not BA0984 however gate opening at 14.56

15.10: Gate opens at A10. A rush of people head for the escalator and elevators.

Another Delay

Another Delay

15.20: Boarding onto 3 buses commences to take us to the aircraft which is parked about 10 mins from the terminal. When we arrive, the bus driver ascends the aircraft steps and 5 mins later comes back down to announce we have to wait on the bus as the pilots are on the plane but no cabin crew. Passengers are tired, irritated and now crammed into a bus and making sarcastic comments about flying without the cabin crew and having a self-service flight. Driver announces we are to go back to A10 departure gate.

Observation: Why was the decision taken to bus people to the aircraft in the knowledge cabin staff were unavailable?

15.50: Advised by BA staff that there is an operational management meeting happening and a decision will be made and announced at 16.30. I get chatting to a member of the check-in team about not having eaten since early morning at which point my details are input onto her pc screen and I am handed a £10 food voucher. However I am told to stay at the departure gate until the announcement is made!

Observation: What use was the voucher if customers had to remain at the gate and why wasn’t this offered to all customers?

16.50 Advised that flight had been cancelled

Observation: Advised that decision would be made at 16.30 and did not occur until 16.50 with no explanation. Why was decision delayed and why wasn’t there a clear communication of this?

This is where the lack of effective leadership of change kicks in big time. When I facilitate workshop with project teams, I always champion the fact that it is a combination of technical project management skills AND an understanding of people and their behaviours that are key to the success of the project. This echoes all the white papers and research that states 70% of business change fails and the main reasons relate to people. Part of the learning I deliver therefore majors on the 5 key elements of change that involve people and need to be managed effectively.

The People Elements Of Change

The People Elements Of Change

Clarify The Change – Have A Vision

Once the decision had been made to cancel the flight, the leaders, before announcing it, should have had a contingency plan in place to ensure that implementation of the cancellation was, from a customer perspective, effective and efficient. This should have included effective communication, additional staff, clarity of action to be taken by customers and support provided from BA.

Involve Staff – Right Skills

It became clear that the staff at the check-in gate did not have either the appropriate skills or accountability to implement the decision made and see this through. On cancellation, all that was advised was to go to Gate A23. The decision-makers should have, as part of their decision, ensured additional support staff where made available at the gate to fully support customers. Who by now, were even more tired, irritated and confused. Why did we need to go to Gate A23? Where was it? And what would happen once we were there? Gate A23 was about a 10 minute walk from Gate A10, at the far end of Terminal 5.

So 200+ customers began the walk to the gate. When we arrived, we realised that all customers from other cancelled flights had been directed there as well. This caused a queue of approximately 700 people. To cope with this, there was 1 BA member of staff at the desk checking people’s check-in paperwork to enable them to be released from check-in to go through passport control and finally to collect luggage. Customers had to take it into their own hands to stop people queue-jumping and things became rather tense.

17.20 Advised to go to Gate 22. Mass movement and jostling as the queue became a mass of people. At Gate 22 there was no checking of documentation and customers were told to go through an emergency exit to passport control.

17.30 Passport Control is flooded by the 700 people from the cancelled flights and those customers who have just arrived on flights.

18.00 Finally get through Passport Control

Luggage Carnage

Luggage Carnage

18.10 Arrive at Baggage Reclaim. Check arrivals board for flight details and belt on which baggage will be. No flight details shown. No BA staff available, total carnage with luggage everywhere and people wandering aimlessly around. Eventually one customer realised that small boards had been hidden amongst the luggage with a small hand-written sign showing just the flight landing airport initials i.e. for Berlin it is TXL. Those that weren’t aware of this code did not know where to look for their luggage. The board should have had the full flight details not just airport acronyms.

Communicate – Feedback

In change it is vitally important that communication is provided to stakeholders in a timely, effective fashion, that meets the needs of those affected by the change. Communication was extremely poor and nigh-on non-existent. In a period of change people quickly become confused about what is going on and what to do. They need clear, unambiguous communication that they understand. BA should have had staff available throughout the end to end process. In the baggage area not one member of staff could be seen, and it was down to individual customers to help each other.

18.20 Having found my luggage, walk to Departures to find the BA Customer Service Desk. Unfortunately no joy in booking an early morning flight to Berlin to get me to the conference in time.

18.30 Find a lone BA staff member just stood in the Departures area. Ask what is the procedure now that a flight that meets my needs is not available. Given a poorly photo-copied 1-page letter explaining rights and assistance if overnight accommodation/subsistence is required. However the onus is totally on the customer. The BA member of staff looked awkward and uncomfortable only being able to provide the letter.

Manage Resistance – Incentives

It is our nature as people to resist change that is imposed upon us and that we have no say in. As such, in a period of change, it is important that people’s needs are meet unless you wish resistance to occur. You need to incentivise people to do things and take action in a different way to ensure that the goals of the project are achieved. BA failed admirably in this area with (i) the £10 food voucher that couldn’t be used and (b) the sort yourself out letter handed to you. Again, there was no clear process and I only received the letter by pure chance by seeing the BA staff member who was not in a specific area of the Departures area with clear signage showing why she was there.

18.36 Hoppa bus back to the Long Stay car park

20.45 Arrive home for a well-earned glass of red wine or two!

Track Progress – Have An Action Plan

Throughout any change, it is really important to track the progress of your plans. What’s working well? What isn’t? What needs to be changed? Throughout the whole process, nobody from BA tracked progress or indeed made any changes. In fact, it appeared as almost all the BA staff had disappeared into thin air. The worst of it as well is that throughout, not one BA leader or manager could be seen!

I hope that the above has proved of value in terms of the key elements in managing people through a period of change and what happens if you don’t give due care and attention to this. I would reiterate that the BA staff I did meet and talk to where very empathetic and understanding however did not have clarity from their leaders, nor indeed authority for taking delegated action and I recognise that these staff did as much as they could within their remit.

If you know of a contact who work for BA, please do forward this blog to them and who knows, it may help those leading change to do it more effectively in the future. After all, it’s not the first time Heathrow has had fog, nor will it be the last!

If you wish to know more on how Ngagementworks can work with you and your project team to engage individuals, motivate your team, enabling them to transform and succeed in the projects you deliver, please do contact me at nick@ngagementworks.com

Finally, what does the day hold for me. Well, trying to obtain compensation from BA. However, they do not make this process easy, so watch this space!

Enjoy The Journey And Not Just The Destination, Nick

If you wish to follow me on Twitter, please check out NgageingNick

6 Comments on “Lessons In Leading Change: BA0984 To Berlin – The Flight That Never Was

  1. Nick
    I went out on Tuesday for the opening slot at the Berlin conference and was grumbling that I was delayed both in and out, but you seem to have had a nightmare. I actually switched to BA after a horrendous customer experience in Ukraine with their national carrier, so bad is in context of generally poor standards – a world away from behaviours of high performance teams, which was one of the themes of my talk.
    Good luck with getting your fair and hotel back.
    Peter

  2. Nick

    BA missed an opportunity to showcase effective change in adopting their latest mission statement “To Fly. To serve”.

    Vivianne

  3. Nick – what a shambles! I can’t believe what happened at LHR in terms of lack of communication/customer service. I worked for BA as a senior CSA at LGW before transferring to Cabin Crew at LHR. Left in 2003 and cannot believe the deterioration in management and shabby way of treating our most valuable asset – the customer. What has happened to the mantras we were taught in Putting People First and various other courses? Would be tempted to return to try and instill/put some pride and management skills in the good ship BA. The mission statement is clearly not being adhered to! What a pity that standards have fallen to budget airline levels.

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