British Airways: Idea Management

Any well-meaning organization needs to capture good ideas for the betterment of its operational processes. This need is largely encompassed in the concept of innovation management, which refers to the generation and preservation of new ideas for purposes of organizational development (Cannella & Mcfadyen 2016). Idea management affects different aspects of organizational performance, including product innovation, product development, and brand performance (among others). It could also be a competitive tool, which organizations may use for purposes of outwitting their rivals. As an employee of British Airways (BA), this essay aims to highlight the industry best practices, which BA could use as it positions itself to be a force to reckon with in the aviation sector. This paper also highlights recommendations about available systems that BA could use to capture new ideas, record associated merits, and evaluate their appropriateness to the operations of the airline. However, to do so, there needs to be a proper understanding of the fundamentals of best practices. One of them is forming dedicated and cross-functional innovation groups.

BA should develop cross-functional teams across different organizational departments to improve the efficiency of the innovation value-chain process as suggested by De Britto et al. (2013). For example, this system could be improved if there is greater synchrony in the company’s marketing and research and development (R&D) functions. Here, the marketing department could help in gathering important information about customer preferences, while the R&D team could identify or develop technological solutions that align with these preferences. The engineering department could also contribute to the innovation process and convert a concept into a tangible product (make it a reality). Nonetheless, Manso (2017) cautions that individual domains may lack the expertise needed to develop marketable or scalable products if the above strategy is adopted. Consequently, he suggests the need for companies to consider fostering collaboration across the product development value chain (Manso 2017). Again, this process would help in converting concepts into tangible products at BA.

Additionally, to achieve the highest level of success in the organization, the functional innovation teams need to have an entrepreneurial spirit. At the same time, they need to be functionally diverse and contemptuous of idea fixedness as proposed by Anderson, Potočnik, and Zhou (2014). By manifesting these traits, they should have a unique perspective to solving some of the company’s internal issues because they can “connect the dots” easier than outside parties can. Successful organizations that have adopted this approach have started programs that provide cross-functional skill sets and employed the same in the product development value chain. Nestle is one such company that has demonstrated this merit because it developed functional units to improve the performance of its middle-level management operations (Maurer & London 2018). The program was aimed at improving business know-how and entrepreneurship. In the end, it helped the company’s managers to identify and implement innovative ideas in the workplace. Broadly, forming dedicated and cross-functional groups at BA would aid it in combining expertise in business strategy and technology. Doing so would also promote the identification of ideas that have a high probability of success in the organization. Similarly, it will be easier for managers to allocate adequate resources to implement them. To complement this process, it is essential to introduce innovation portals in the firm.

This practice comes from the need for companies to be both reactive and proactive in developing successful innovation plans, as has been documented by several researchers, such as Damanpour (2014) and Bhaumik (2018). Although it is suggested that cross-functional teams should be empowered to steer innovation management initiatives, BA should maintain a repository of open problems and a portal to allow the company’s co-partners to contribute to idea exchange programs. In other words, the firm is supposed to maintain multifunctional innovation portals or dedicated websites as an infrastructure link between the airline and its external contractors. The innovation portals could be multipurpose to allow for easier communication between the company’s representatives and outside vendors (Miller 2016). Setting up this infrastructure would do more than improve the relationship between BA and its shareholders because it would help to consolidate all innovation leads generated from within the company. Meanwhile, it avoids instances of parallel leads emerging in the firm as this outcome could jeopardize the entire innovation process (Damanpour 2014; Bhaumik 2018). At the same time, BA could maintain a list of all innovation leads or create a database for making references when need be. General Electric introduced such a platform successfully and has benefitted from proposed solutions generated by its shareholders, including engineers, manufacturers, and customers (Laperche & Picard 2013).

Develop Innovation Networks and Establish a Global Research and Development Presence is also another practice that should be embraced by BA because it is common practice for Airlines to test their innovations in high-value market segments and later transfer the same to low-value markets (Damanpour 2014; Bhaumik 2018). However, as globalization continues to spread and businesses further realize the importance of thinking locally and acting global, BA needs to distribute its research and development hubs across different target markets to exploit these trends. More importantly, as new airline routes emerge in developing markets, they need to pay more attention to establishing a link between prevailing market dynamics and their innovation ecosystem.

This process should be complemented by the digitalization of the value chain.

Here, it is essential to note that the trend to digitize value chains is not confined to the airline industry alone, different companies from multiple industries are embracing the trend and improving their data management systems to reap the benefits (Meuer 2014). The process is integral to innovation management because it enables functional teams to work better (Meuer 2014). More importantly, from a project management perspective, digitalization is integral in tracking responsibilities and keeping track of the successes and failures of a business. At BA, digitizing the value chain system could bring many benefits to stakeholders, including promoting shared learning and developing internal portals to allow third parties to contribute to innovation management. Digitizing the value chain system could also introduce accountability and transparency in the innovation management process because it allows everyone to see what is going on (Miller 2015). By gaining access to ongoing processes, people are at liberty to contribute to existing ideas. This action promotes efficient collaboration across teams by eliminating some of the bottlenecks that could impede innovation management when people have one-on-one discussions.

Nurturing an innovation culture is also part of the processes that should characterize BA’s idea management plans because it is essential for the company to cultivate a culture that supports the generation of new concepts. According to Taghizadeh et al. (2017), this recommendation outlines the softer side of innovation best practice. Relatively, Aromaa and Eriksson (2014) contend that the easiest and most efficient way to foster a culture that supports innovation is to link employees with business leaders and project teams so that they could learn from them in an unbound and unlimited manner. This recommendation is relevant to BA because similar organizations are vulnerable to cases of change resistance as cautioned by Volberda, Van Den Bosch, and Mihalache (2014). At the same time, BA organization’s reward system may not factor in the risk of failure as well as competitors may do. Therefore, it suffers the risk of middle managers lacking the incentive needed to control risk as suggested by Kralisch et al. (2018). In other words, they may be unable to assess risk management effectively.

To foster the right organizational culture, BA needs to be supported by four fundamental pillars. The first one is the alignment of innovation and business practice. This pillar will make sure that all stakeholders in the organization have a proper understanding of the company’s vision, direction, and strategies. At the same time, it will provide a foundation to ensure that the firm’s innovation efforts are directed towards supporting initiatives that complement the organization’s performance. According to Brexendorf, Bayus, and Keller (2015), this is a sure way of enhancing the firm’s success.

Secondly, reducing the fear of failure should be another pillar informing BA’s culture. Within this framework, responsibility should be accorded to a senior-level sponsor who should approve the company’s innovation processes or ideas. Consequently, employees will be motivated to try out different ideas because they will feel protected by a joint sense of responsibility (in case of failure). De Massis, Di Minin, and Frattini (2015) support this assertion. Thirdly, fostering collaboration should be another tenet of BA’s corporate culture, which is focused on creating small start-up teams that should act as incubating points for new ideas. Lastly, another pillar of BA’s corporate culture should be the openness to new ideas. To support this pillar, BA should foster a culture that eliminates resistance to new ideas and promote one that periodically validates internal innovation initiatives, as opposed to allowing external stimuli to dictate what should be done in the organization (Heyden, Sidhu & Volberda 2018). Realizing the benefits of this approach requires the appropriate selection of an idea management system. In the section below, a recommendation is made for the use of web-based systems.

Web-based systems are the best to use at BA because they provide speed and flexibility in the gathering, processing, and dissemination of ideas. This ability could help the company to compete at higher levels of engagement with other airlines. More importantly, they will help managers to assess the impact of new ideas on the organization’s operations as they are equipped with assessment tools for analysis. This process is instrumental in the company’s operations because it seamlessly helps managers to determine “returns on ideas.”

The web-based system proposed above is a product of the digitization process which was highlighted before. Particularly, it aligns with one best practice – digitization of the value chain. However, at the core of its work is the establishment of an externally hosted web-based system that will allow BA to gather ideas from employees about how to improve the organization and evaluate workers’ views about the same. This system applies to BA because it could eliminate the need for installing an enterprise application on the company’s corporate network as suggested by Peters, Thiel, and Tucci (2013).

The system set-up process for the web-based application system could be done in several ways. One of them is by buying a standard web-based application system for knowledge management, as recommended by Krstić, Skorup, and Lapčević (2017). Another one is contracting an information technology company to develop a customized knowledge management plan. At the same time, it could be tailor-made to accommodate any existing idea generated from within the company. Three levels of access could also be inbuilt in the system and they include administrator access, managers’ access, and user access. To be more specific, easy customizability is only one advantage of embracing web-based knowledge management systems. Others include cost-effective development, easy accessibility, improved interoperability, easy installation, and maintenance, as well as increased security (Krstić, Skorup & Lapčević 2017).

In conclusion, effective idea management will have a strong and positive impact on the performance of BA. Particularly, adopting the recommendations highlighted before would promote the firm’s performance because it will foster a common understanding of positive organizational processes and goals. More importantly, the adoption of some of the recommendations highlighted in this paper would mean a reduction in business process risk and an improvement of the airline’s innovation record. Therefore, the suggestions proposed need to be carefully reviewed to improve the BA organization’s idea management processes. Achieving the above goals depends on the ability of the airline to not only innovate but retain the best ideas for purposes of meeting organizational goals. At the same time, there needs to be proper functioning of the innovation value-chain process and the development of cross-functional teams across different organizational departments to improve the efficiency of the innovation value-chain process. Additionally, to achieve the highest level of success in the organization, the functional innovation teams need to have an entrepreneurial spirit and demonstrate functional diversity (devoid of idea fixedness). As recommended before, web-based systems are the best to use to achieve these goals because they provide speed and flexibility in the gathering, processing, and dissemination of ideas.

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