The British Airways Swipe Card Debacle

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On July, 18, 2003, British Airways (BA) staff held a 24-hour wildcat strike. BA staff were protesting the introduction of a system for electronic clocking-in that would record when they started and finished work for the day. Staff were concerned that the system would enable managers to manipulate their working patterns and shift hours. The clocking-in system was one small part of a broader restructuring program in BA. Over the previous two years, this had led to approximately 13,000, or almost one in four jobs, being cut within the airline. For BA management, introduction of the swipe card system was a way of modernizing BA and “improving the efficient use of staff and resources.”For staff it was seen as a “prelude to a radical shake-up in working hours, which would lead to loss of pay and demands to work split shifts.” (The British Airways Swipe Card Debacle)

From each change perspective, what are the key issues to understanding the wildcat strike?

The key issues that caused the wildcat strike were the unilateral decision by BA to introduce the swipe card, a lack of adequate consultation with affected staff, the start of the peak holiday season. BA’s management wanted to improve effectiveness of the organization by forced imposition of the swipe card system. A lack of adequate consultation and the previous redundancy program led to the strike that fell on the peak holiday season and caused the worst loss of BA’s money. (The British Airways Swipe Card Debacle) The employees were not satisfied with the existing situation in the organization and the policy of BA’s management. BA didn’t pay attention to the mood of its employees and was not prepared for these events.

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What lessons emerge from each perspective and what recommendations would you draw from each in constructing your advice?

Rod Eddington, chief executive of BA, acknowl­edged that it was wrong of his senior management to introduce the new clock-in system in the way they did. To impose this system without realizing the extent of resistance by those involved shows BA’s senior management misunderstanding of the principles of organizational development and the possible consequences of such actions. They didn’t consider the redundancy program that had been conducted before, staff fears of a lack of consultation, poor pay rates, dissatisfaction with management and made no attempt to minimize resistance to organizational change. (The British Airways Swipe Card Debacle) They should have started with a careful organization-wide analysis of the current situation and of the future requirements, and employed techniques of behavioral sciences as OD’s objective is to enable the organization in adopting-better to the fast-changing external environment of new markets, regulations, and technologies. (www.businessdictionary.com)

Is there one change perspective, or a combination of change perspectives, that provides the best way of understanding the swipe card issue? Why?

Senior management should change the policy of implementing changes, the methods of achieving their goals, take into consideration the working environment and suggest the possible solutions to arising problems. Knowledge of the principles of OD and their practical use will favour the successful development of the organization and help to avoid negative consequences of bad management. Successful organizational development is collaborative and future-oriented. Through OD, organizations can improve effectiveness, achieve goals, build capacity, and creatively manage challenges and change. (www.washington.edu)

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What broad conclusions emerge from this analysis?

To predict this situation one should foresee the reaction of the employees to the introduction of the new system and be ready for preventing possible events, explain the need of using it and convince the employees in it, choose the appropriate time for it, and in case of resistance to it try to reach the agreement with the employees.

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