• BA crew threaten industrial action over ‘HR fantasy project’

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  • 19 Jul 2016
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Union slams new performance management system; airline says changes will enhance customer service

Thousands of British Airways (BA) cabin crew are to vote on whether to take industrial action in a dispute over a performance management scheme described by one union rep as a “human resources fantasy project”.

Almost 9,000 members of the British Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association (BASSA) – a section of trade union Unite – will be polled over action short of a strike.

Union bosses want the airline to suspend its introduction of a ‘dashboard’ scheme to allow consultations to take place and job security to be guaranteed.

Unite regional officer Matt Smith said: “In its current form this new dashboard system means, as an employee, you are constantly given red, green and possibly amber [ratings], based on a never-ending ‘continual improvement’ score, which, we believe, eventually year-on-year will become impossible to achieve.

“This would then give the BA management an excuse to get rid of dedicated long-serving staff.

“Frankly, this is an out-of-control human resources fantasy project and it is no surprise employees are pushing back against its ill-thought-out introduction.”

Smith was highly critical of HR’s choice and administration of performance management initiatives.

“I am always amazed how much companies are prepared to invest in new HR performance management policies when there is no clear evidence they actually achieve anything other than wasting the company’s money, creating employee stress and engendering a feeling of job insecurity,” he said.

“Our members would prefer to spend their time doing what they do best, which is giving the best service possible while ensuring the safety of BA customers.

“They want to continue delivering a billion-pound operating profit for the company, rather than needless bureaucratic form-filling on board the aircraft.”

He insisted the proposed action would not affect customers.

“If the vote is for industrial action, we would actually expect to see an improvement in service to passengers. We hope those on board will appreciate we are making a stand while avoiding unnecessary disruption to them as valued passengers.”

A BA spokeswoman said: “We've introduced a new system that includes feedback from customers about how they are looked after onboard. This sort of feedback is common in all industries.

“The system enables us to commend cabin crew who perform well and support those who need to improve so that we ensure our customers get the very highest standards of service.”

The ballot for the Eurofleet and Worldwide Fleet cabin crew, who are based at Heathrow Airport, will open on Thursday 21 July and close on Wednesday 17 August.

Unite said a consultative ballot had shown that 94 per cent of BASSA members supported some form of industrial action.

Maria da Cunha, director of people and legal at BA, said last year that staff engagement was a key focus for the firm.

“We’re challenging people to find different ways of doing things, and to improve productivity and efficiency,” she said. “And for that we need highly engaged staff.”

“While some organisations are making big news about moving away from traditional performance appraisals, it is important that employers deliver performance management that works in practice,” said Jonny Gifford, research adviser at the CIPD. "The danger is that in a rush to ‘scrap performance appraisals’ employers throw the baby out with the bathwater.

“There is evidence that performance management can contribute to positive performance in the workplace, but there is also strong evidence that some aspects of assessment can get in the way of delivering positive outcomes,” he added. 

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Comments (6)
  • As a frequent traveller on BA anything designed to iron out inconsistencies in service quality would be welcome. This sounds like a deeper issue of trust than anything connected to Hard systems pet services.

  • Here is what I feel could have been an Engagement based approach that may have been followed:

    Before designing the New Performance Management System

    1. The questions asked at this stage should have been:

       Are we aiming to "improve performance" or are we fixing what's not broken?

    2. Is the time right (proposed Brexit and associated uncertainty; assuming that the scheme was on the anvil well before the referendum)

    3. How to ensure that the development process is Engaging, inclusive and well documented?

    During the Design process

    1. Engagement with Employees while the Dashboard idea was starting to emerge on the drawing board. Employees' psychological contracts could have been strengthened by focusing upon What makes freshers apply to BA? What they like about BA (what keeps them at BA?)

    After the Design and just before launch

    2. Further Engagement through inviting inputs from employees, the concept of marketing for ideas should have been the mainstay for the development. What encourages them to deliver high quality customer service? What more can they do deliver better service? How would they like their performance to be measured?

    3. Application of Emotional Intelligence by the Design Team (BA Management) by Choosing a  Warm and Positive Theme. This  should have been a starting point; motivational associations with Joy/Brightness/Twinkle/Smiles/ Satisfaction/Loyalty should have been worked upon.

    [ It seems that the BA management would do well to remember and apply this magnificent quote by Sybil F. Stershic ..“The way your employees feel is the way your customers will feel.]

    4. Generating and Strengthening an emotional bond by choosing soulful and engaging words. The term "Dashboard" itself has an insensitive ring to it, it sounds clinical, heartless and very mechanical.

    5. Using Traffic Light analogy to sum up a fellow employee's performance is not only hurtful, its downright insulting and demotivating.

    After the Design Process and leading up to the Launch:

    1.The new system should have been soft launched, monitored (employees updated)

    2. A final decision for a full fledged launch should have then been arrived upon.

  • I see this HR Director (or should I say Director of People, my what a grandiose title they give themselves these days) wants to return to the system of treating adults like children. When will they ever learn that "performance appraisal" systems don't work, are a waste of time and demeaning to both managers and staff. If managers are doing their job effectively you don't need any form of assessment criteria. They just never learn.....................

  • Has BA tried managing its staff. Many service organisations find this works quite well.......

  • I appreciate the PM article is a summary, but interesting that the words 'ISO 9001' and 'quality standards' do not make an appearance while the phrase 'continual improvement' does. The ISO, as one expects, captures the idea of continual improvement very well, and I think that if the essence of it were translated accurately into the HR programme and thus to the staff it might help sort out the disagreement.

    Continual improvement is not about continuous improvement, which I suspect is behind the members' complaint, and neither is it really about traffic light performance measurement, which is probably not the best way of expressing HR's real intent. Continuous improvement is a redundant term in the quality world exactly because it is unachievable; eventually one  becomes so perfect there's nowhere left to go beyond a long fall from the top of the stairway to heaven.

    The improvement and the means of measurement should start from the same place: can we as BA identify specific opportunities to make ourselves the airline of first choice in a competitive market; are we at the forefront of world class technology and service provision;  what specific roles do our staff need to play in the identification and delivery processes; and how do we measure our performance as BA and reward our staff and shareholders, or not, appropriately?

    Red, Amber, Green might not cut it. A traffic light implies negativity and an absolute: "you haven't improved since last month so you're Amber; by next month we need you to have got back to Green or you're Red; and if you do get to Green by next month you're back to Amber by the month after that unless you've ratchetted yourself up to Bright Emerald".

    The point of all this is that continual improvement means identifying specific goals, implementing them in accordance with a project plan, measuring the success or otherwise of the company and the staff involved, taking action to put things right when they go off track, and sharing in the ultimate success or failure.I don't see it matters much whether we're talking about cabin staff, senior management, or the people who make the cabins.      

  • Personally, I do not see an issue with the introduction of a performance management process into any business, especially within the customer-service industry.

    British Airways thrive on providing excellent customer service to its passengers - without customers, the airline would not survive. When utilised correctly, the benefits of a robust performance management process is one that can have a huge impact on the business itself - the organisation, managers, customers and employees will all be affected should BA choose to go ahead with new performance management process.

    British Airways, in turn, should have improved organizational performance, employee retention and loyalty, improved productivity and will also overcome any barriers to communication they may have at this moment in time. In relation to the cabin crew role itself, a strong performance management system will only benefit as it will aim to clarify expectations of cabin crew, and contributes to improved performance, will clearly defines career paths and hopefully promoting job satisfaction on board.

    This view is one of my own, but I think the union are over-reacting here. Employees are employed to work, and work effectively and efficiently. If employees are not working to the required standards, then it is up to BA to implement the necessary support in order to 'turn around the poor performance' - as long as a fair process is followed at all times, then the airline will be covered from an employment law aspect. What the union are failing to realise here is that the performance management process is NOT a mandatory procedure required in order to fairly dismiss someone from an organisation on the grounds of poor performance/capability. Also, the union are only promoting the negative side of the process within the above article - what about those that can be identified as being 'high performers' and progressing through the ranks to be Senior Cabin Crew members/Pursers - how else are you going to measure an employee's performance - good or bad. The process works in both ways.

    The union need to be very careful here - yes, it has a job to protect its members but by rejecting a performance management process can have consequences on the airline itself.