Conditioning Others for Success: Converting Unions to Winners!

Executive Summary:    Do unions protect people in positions within an organization, or do unions protect positions for the sake of positions without the thought for productivity?

Her name was Jackie at the check in counter. His name was Paul waiting on flyers at 30,000 feet. His name was Steve on the ground outside the cockpit window. Her name is Donna at the gate, Art at the call center, and the list could go on. These are individuals that have forgotten more about being a business leader in the aviation industry, than most of the management team directing them today!

Does a union protect people in positions within an organization, or does a union protect positions for the sake of positions without the thought for productivity?

Do members of management serve as stewards for an organization or stewards for their own self interests?

A leader (whether on the management side of the line or the union/labor side) must navigate the traditional lines that pit one against the other. For the health of the organizations involved, the models that lead to managerial-leadership action from the post World War II era must be revolutionized for models of efficiency in the post 2000 reality!

As a leader, your ability to blend and involve all parties into the organizational strategies and tactics for a cohesive oneness is no longer a question for debate, but a real necessity. Both management and labor must work to recognize that any viable organization must recognize the essential, functional positions that are necessary for an organization, must be protected. Any individual that holds a functional position must be held accountable to continually increase his or her skill performance base. This will ensure the individual always remains relevant in that position for that organization.

Every position in any organization today must do one or a combination of, and ideally, all three of the following:

  1. Increase productivity (not activity)
  2. Increase profitability/revenue
  3. Save revenue

The following example could just as easily be your own business. The airline industry is an example of old models that protect people, regardless of functional need. As an avid aviation and American Airlines Executive Platinum multi-million frequent flyer, logging typically 20 plus fights each month, I am what Tom Peter’s would call a “raving Fan” or Herb Kelleher would call “nut’s about AA”. With the volume of monthly flights within the aviation industry that I travel on AA, in the month of October I will be onboard 32 different jets acrossAmerica, I am afforded a unique opportunity to observe greatness at work daily.

This is not a judgment of good people or bad people, but rather an observation of protecting people in positions that have evolved away and not kept pace with industry needs. In the endeavors of a management layer neglecting their responsibilities and union leadership run amuck in self-serving needs, both have nearly run an industry into bankruptcy. The victims are both the customer and the employees!

A September 2003 observational survey at airports such as,Chicago’s O’Hare,Dallas,OrangeCounty,Seattle,New YorkCity’s LaGuardia,St. Louis,San Diego, LAX, Houston Intercontinental and my homeportofTulsarevealed that it takes 3.5 employees of Southwest Airlines to turn an airplane in less than 27 minutes. American Airlines needs 9.5 employees and took more than one hour to turn a plane.

Today, an airline’s greatest expense is its labor costs. All stake-holders must recognize that joint ownership of functional positions (i.e. cross training and job responsibility sharing) and solutions for increased productivity and profitability is necessary for success in this new world economy. Realigning the task responsibilities and the compensation structure for everyone is no longer a consideration, rather an integral need. As a leader, pulling these traditional adversarial groups together will take both finesse and bold tenacity.

Maybe people just can’t be compensated in the future as they have been in the past for the same levels of output. Our scales of compensation economy may need to be realigned. This is neither a good nor a bad, but merely a reality if we are to stay in business!

Performance pay based on profitability may be a lesson for all airlines, as it has worked for Southwest Airlines and their 50th quarter of profitability, according to the Wall Street Journal newspaper this past month!

There are three immediate strategic ways for the airline industry to right themselves and which most all major carriers, including America Airlines, have not even addressed:

  1. Rebuild all High Touch Positions
  2. Rebuild all High Visibility Positions
  3. Involve all High Impact Customers

These three strategic areas are what all growth business today have kept their performance eye on and from which all tactically deployed actions come out of.  It is attributed that Einstein once said to the effect, “One can not resolve a problem with the same mindset that created it!” And so too is the manifesting problems of the aviation industry, when one involves the same minds to solve a changing industry that participated in its demise.

This observational model of aviation reality could just as easily be your business. Conditioning everyone for success and converting all work partners from a mindset of “me unionism” into “us’ism” will be the hallmark trait difference between those who survive and thrive and those who become lesson plans in a business history class.

-Dr Jeff Magee
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