Organisations worldwide face pressure to be up to date with the demand to adjust to the continuously changing industries as well as the intensifying levels of competition in the global arena. The range of challenges and opportunities that modern organisations face increased pressure on leaders and managers to transform their organisations to have the capacity of better addressing the threats and potential areas for improvement. However, practitioners and researchers have continued indicating that organisational transformation is not only complex to implement but also often results in failure (Pasmore and Woodman, 2017).
This means that a variety of strategies have been developed to assist organisations in confronting the need for transformation and enhancing their capabilities.
While there is a variety of approaches intended for helping organisations facilitate change, the radical circle (RC) approach is an innovative perspective that differs from others significantly. Radical circles are unique because it is not a directive of management and is both unplanned and emergent. The adherence to the RC framework is entirely voluntary, while membership is being managed by the members itself. Furthermore, RC does not require the support of specific leaders or managers, with the focus placed on non-linear thinking for achieving organisational transformation. The links between RC and vision transformation and enhanced innovation capability development at organisations should be studied further because of the innovative nature of the framework and the unprecedented changes that it brings to companies.
This paper aims to evaluate the notion that radical circles could affect vision transformation and enhance innovation capability (Bartunek and Jones, 2017). The impact of RC will be studied in the context of the operations of Singapore Airlines, which is the flag carrier airline of Singapore. Despite the widespread support of the need for business transformation, not all organisations have shown significant progress when implementing a strategy for transformational change. Therefore, in order for Singapore Airlines to facilitate change that can be sustainable and lead to the diversification of opportunities for the company, RC may be implemented. The radical circles perspective associated with change has triggered interest for further exploration of ways to increase the divergence of ideas for effective and sustainable transformation.
Singapore Airlines (SIA) is globally recognised as one of the leading airline carriers. The company’s route network spans over 90 cities in more than 40 countries. It was incorporated in 1972, with its origins dating back to the establishment of Malayan Airways Limited. The organisation is known for its high levels of customer service as well as the ongoing efforts for upgrading the fleet and technologies that are being used on flights. At this time, SIA is 54% owned by the government of Singapore, with minor shareholdings by Swissair and Delta Airlines. The importance of SIA for the global transportation system has been attributed to the fact that Singapore is a significant transit point for travelling to other destinations in the Far East. Even at times when the airline industry has been experiencing a significant recession, SIA has been among the most consistently profitable airline.
SIA has been known for winning awards for being one of the most profitable airlines in the world because of its focus on innovation. According to Wirtz (2019), there are three institutional factors that have helped the organisation to facilitate an ongoing stream of industry-leading innovation. The first principle refers to the development of an innovation climate, which has been relying on the leadership and culture focused on innovation (Anthony, Johnson and Sinfield, 2008). The second principle that facilitates the operations of SIA is the regular investment in human resources, such as employee incentives and additional training (Wirtz, 2019). The third principle is associated with enabling a configuration of resources that helps and encourages employees to take ownership of innovations and hence increase their motivation.
In addition to the three foundational principles, SIA has created four broad innovation-related capabilities. First, the company embraces ambidexterity, which implies focusing not only on innovation in service provision but also on innovations that facilitate cost savings. For example, in 2006, the company launched the widest seat in the industry for the business class for its Boeing 777 and A380 aircrafts, and the seat was designed to manually transform into a bed (Wirtz, 2019). The innovation reduced the number of heavy motors needed, which significantly decreased costs associated with manufacturing, fleet repairs, and maintenance.
Second, to support ambidexterity, SIA has made learning and knowledge integration institutional at the organisation. This means that the company is continuously monitoring customer feedback, tracks the activities of competitors, and extensively uses benchmarking and surveys. By doing so, SIA can share knowledge across multiple units to use opportunities and solve issues as soon as they appear.
Third, SIA is a good contender for innovation through radical circles because it encourages collaborative relationships. The innovative process is facilitated with the help of joint work by internal stakeholders and external supplier networks. Finally, the organisation has made customer value central to the culture of innovation, leading not only to innovative services and products but to such advancements as ultra-premium Suites that have exceeded the standards of the industry. According to the vice president of SIA, whatever the company does, it is always “in search of excellence and is never willing to settle for what it has already achieved” (Wirtz, 2019, para. 10). Overall, SIA is an innovation-driven organisation, which points to the possibility of facilitating a positive environment for the emergence of radical circles that will facilitate collaborative efforts and a move toward innovation.
Environmental Inhibitors and Accelerants
Being a world-renowned airline, one of the significant strengths of SIA is its positioning in Asia and Europe, which allows it to gain a competitive advantage over other companies. Based on the secure positioning in the airline industry, SIA has been focused on implementing strategies that would facilitate further competitive advantage. The majority of the strategies target the improvement of operational efficiency, the control of costs, as well as service quality. Nevertheless, in order to identify the potential impact of the organisation’s transformation efforts, it is essential to evaluate the environmental accelerants and inhibitors that influence the business.
With the help of Lewin’s Force Field Analysis, it is possible to understand what should be changed in the organisation. The analysis implies proposing a change at an organisation and determining corporate forces for change and forces resisting change. After the identification of the forces, it is imperative to assign scores to each factor that corresponds to the degree of their influence on the change process.
The proposed changes to implement at Singapore Airlines are concerned with enhancing vision transformation and innovation capability development with the help of the radical circles framework. Economic factors represent the main inhibitors to change because the airline industry is highly reliant on the economic situation. In 2020, when airline travel has significantly decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, economies of both developing and developed countries have been experiencing turmoil.
With the recession that is characterised by the rising levels of unemployment due to the lockdowns and closing down businesses and the decreasing prices on oil, airline companies have been forced to slow down their operations. Forced flight cancellations associated with the spreading of the pandemic have brought economic instability for airline companies, and SIA is no exception. According to the Air Transport Bureau report by ICAO (2020), the overall reduction of seats offered by airlines ranged between 32% to 59%.
The overall decrease in passengers, compared to the baseline statistics, would range from 1,825 to 3,208 million passengers in 2020 (ICAO, 2020). Finally, the gross operating revenue of global airlines, compared to the baseline (originally expected figures), would decrease between US$238 to $418 billion (ICAO, 2020). While the economic impact depends on the duration of the airline’s downtime as well as containment measures, it would be complicated for Singapore Airlines to reach the baseline of sales because of the exasperating economic conditions that do not give the public confidence to travel to foreign countries.
The core accelerants of the proposed transformation include technological factors, which represent the rate at which new inventions are being presented to the industry as well as advancement in mobile and Information Technologies. Because of the goal to enhance innovation capability development at Singapore Airlines, the availability of the latest technologies at the organisation will ensure that the company moves in the direction of improving operations. Technological factors are expected to bring positive change for SIA because of their potential to help the organisation adapt to customer preferences and demands, which rely heavily on the economic and environmental conditions (Al-Hashimi and Fuad, 2018). In their study, Al-Hashimi and Fuad (2018) found that innovative technologies used by airlines influenced the preferences of their customers in terms of choosing a carrier.
Social characteristics represent both inhibitors and accelerators for the transformation through radical circles. They represent a set of social attitudes, behaviors, and trends that influence Singapore Airlines and the target market of customers that may choose the services of the organisation. Social factors inhibit change because there is a decrease in the morale of the global community associated with the spreading of the pandemic. Because of the fear of travelling to other areas, customers may lose the desire to buy airline tickets, which means that SIA would have to decrease prices and provide attractive offers that would increase the interest for air travel. Therefore, the overall change in lifestyle trends associated with the COVID-19 pandemic will limit the opportunities for SIA to facilitate positive change at the organisation.
On the positive side, social factors can play the role of transformation accelerators because the changing social habits will call for increased levels of innovation capability development. The pandemic has caused companies to adjust their procedures and offer customers new products and services that are heavily based on innovation. For example, online and remote services have been gaining increased popularity, and SIA should also capitalise on innovation to increase the demand for its services. With the help of the RC approach, it is possible to surface the available gaps in knowledge and create a greater understanding of how the transformation should take place (Shani, Greenbaum and Verganti, 2018).
In addition to improving services at the organisation, RC is needed to facilitate a change initiative that would improve the experiences of customers and make air travel safer in the light of the pandemic. The Force Field Analysis showed that SIA should rely on technologies as the key facilitator of transformation at the organisation. The change initiative should include consistent Research and Development efforts aimed to address the economic and social challenges associated with the global crisis.
Change Management Model
Strategic change implies a move of an organisation away from its current state and toward desired change to increase competitive advantage. It is an approach that means bringing about disruption and congruence within the strategic structure of an organisation as well as human resource systems and the overall environment (Balogun and Hope Hailey, 2008). Because of this, change management models have been introduced in order to guide organisations toward the expected outcomes associated with change.
Models for change management are needed for navigating change, which is a common organisational issue, whether on a small or large-scale level. When change is planned, companies can stay ahead of change resistance and create a well-developed framework that would facilitate change (Thompson, 2013).
In this context, concerning the use of RC for improving vision transformation and innovation capability development, the Bridges Transition Model can be applied. The Bridges Transition Model is intended to help businesses or persons with implementing organisational change, and its strength is attributed to assisting companies to transition. Change is a process that may often be met with resistance because it is uncomfortable for individuals, which leads to resistance. The Transition Model identifies three main stages organisations go through as they gradually enter a new organisational landscape. Predominantly, the model is concerned with psychological change, with transitions taking place between each stage of the path toward change.
The three phases include ends, the neutral zone, and a new beginning (Bolland and Fletcher, 2016). The stage called ‘ends’ implies that any transition begins with an ending of something. It implies a realisation that change is happening, and there may be different consequences of change depending on the person that is experiencing it. When it comes to the integration of radical circles to facilitate innovation development and vision transformation, it is imperative to understand the purpose of change, respect the individual feelings of employees regarding the change, clarify the benefits of change, as well as increase the extent of communication within the organisation (Galbraith, 2018). No matter how radical the transformation is expected to be, at the ‘end’ stage, it is imperative to ensure that employees receive extensive levels of support.
The second stage, the neutral zone, is at the core of the change process. During this period, an organisation will be between the old and new reality, and the company’s employees will learn how to handle the consequences of change and the psychological shifts that will inevitably take place.
During this stage, it is likely that the new identity of employees will be developed. The employees that are in the neutral zone may feel insecure about the change, confused, and impatient, and it is the responsibility of change management professionals to help individuals overcome them (Hayes, 2014). To accomplish this, it is necessary to respond to the feedback from employees quickly, introduce training when appropriate, discuss the benefits of change, as well as handle any challenges as soon as they arise.
The third and final stage, a new beginning, is a period of change acceptance and new energy. When the employees of an organisation have accepted a transformation, it is expected that they will be developing new skills to adjust to new processes and environments. A new identity is the result of a well-developed transition, which implies that employees have a good understanding of the change and how it will work to the advantage of the organisation (McDonnell, Collings, Mellahi and Schuler, 2017). At this stage, employees are likely to experience positive emotions because they see that their work has begun showing some results.
After a smooth transition through a change process, it is likely that workers will be energetic, eager to learn, as well as feel engaged within the organisation (Tidd and Bessant, 2013). The management of the company should ensure that there is consistency in behavior, that results and milestones are celebrated, as well as that there is ongoing communication between leaders and employees.
A radical circle to be integrated at Singapore Airlines should be an informal group, not necessarily ordered by the management. By definition of the term, radical circles will operate before there is a formal commitment to the exploration of a new vision within an organisation. This means that the radical circle will be voluntary, and its participants will unify because they have a common vision and want to overcome a particular barrier that limits the competition of the organisation or its parts. Furthermore, the participants of the radical circle can share an intuition for an opportunity that a company could take.
An example of such a radical circle is the innovation implemented by Microsoft. The company introduced a new product to the market, a video game console, which was developed by four renegades of Microsoft who shared a passion of gaming and imagined their company creating a product that they can use themselves consistently (Claro Tomaselli and De Serio, 2013). Because the gaming console was well-designed and well-developed by a company, it was positively received by customers who also shared a passion for video games.
An RC will be established with the help of interpersonal connections between the employees of the firm. The foundational component is the high level of trust between the radicals who have a shared understanding of the current challenges and opportunities to develop an alternative vision, practices, or products and services (Shani et al., 2018).
Trust can be established through fostering informal connections that were created in the process of fulfilling everyday work assignments and other related tasks. It is also essential to note that radical circles come together as a result of friendship, which transitions to an organisation-based focus. As the group changes and evolves, it is likely to develop a standard set of values and attitudes, which are driven by the need for change (Shani et al., 2018). Overall, radical circles require room for shared ideas and an environment that will facilitate improved work dynamics, roles, and responsibilities.
What is unique about radical circles is that their members have a common idea or a “hot cause” (Verganti and Shani, 2016, p. 109). In order to facilitate enhanced innovation and vision transformation, there should be a group of employees at SIA that have an idea that can improve the competitive advantage of the organisation. For example, in light of the current pandemic, the development of new safety measures such as protective screens and other appliances could facilitate an increase in interest in purchasing flight tickets from SIA. When customers see that the company shares their values of travelling safely and being safeguarded from potential virus transfer, they are more likely to consider SIA when planning their next flight.
The uniqueness of radical circles lies in the opportunity to expand the range of products and services offered by Singapore Airlines. A vision that changes the direction of the organisation is highly likely to capture new opportunities outside the current range of vision. The change in direction may never be entertained or considered ineffective or unprofitable. While branching out to new areas and markets is particularly challenging given the current economic climate and the declining demand for airline travel, radical circles can be used to facilitate organisational vision transformation and boost innovation capability development to enhance the already existing services.
Vision transformation may take place within the organisational culture, which should also enhance the innovation capability of Singapore Airlines. Radical circles that are embedded into the operations of SIA will focus on the new organisational structure, business processes, or technology to identify the design solutions for the changes. Once the solution has been designed, it will be presented to change management professionals and the higher management to lower the resistance among stakeholders and create a commitment to change. However, creating an environment that will welcome radical circles that could initiate a change process is a matter of corporate culture that should be implemented at Singapore Airlines (Heracleous and Wirtz, 2014).
Early employee engagement, communication, participation, and inputting to direction are all factors that must be embedded in the culture of an organisation. Thus, while radical circles will find areas for improvement through challenging the status quo at the organization, the higher management of the company should enable the work of employees to share a common vision and have a desire to introduce new systems, processes, and services.
While there is a variety of definitions of innovation, it has been used to explain the process of turning an idea into a solution that adds value. Such value is usually being offered to customers who decide whether it aligns with the price that a company is charging for innovation. It is also imperative to note that innovation can take place from both internal and external perspectives, depending on its aims and the goals that organisations are pursuing. Moreover, an innovation of vision is essential to consider within the current change management model. When it comes to the process of vision development with the help of the traditional approach, innovation is being facilitated from the top, which means that the contribution of SIA’s leadership is essential (Verganti and Shani, 2016).
The role of top executives is to facilitate a change process that would enable the deployment of a new vision at the organisation. The model works effectively when it comes to considering developmental vision transformation. Such change will entail a significant leap forward but in the same direction in which the organisation was aiming previously.
Compared to the traditional model of the proposed change is expected to increase the potential for innovation. Radical vision transformation, which implies a shift in direction that challenges the entire system of understanding what goes wrong and what goes well at an organisation, top-down processes assume the need for change as well as the struggles that are likely to occur (Verganti and Shani, 2016).
When applying the RC framework toward the innovative measures implemented at Singapore Airlines, a bottom-up transformation will be needed. It will imply a certain degree of separation from the established system, which favours the facilitation of a vision that does not align with the existing one. What is notable is that radical circles are only partially separate as they are immersed in the details of organisational processes and facilitate change from the bottom-up.
To reach the desired levels of innovation capability and vision transformation, a radical circle reframing the value parameters within the target organisation. For Singapore Airlines, which is a service-based organisation, enhancing innovation capability development will require new perspectives on the use of the potential of human systems (Rajapathirana and Hui, 2018). The organisation will be expected to increase its agility to ensure successful survival within the context of declining economies and the decreasing demand for air travel.
In the light of the overall decline in the global economy, there is an opportunity for Singapore Airlines to facilitate a change process to increase the competitive advantage while also improving the procedures that take place within the organisation. The goal of the higher management is to create an environment at SIA that will facilitate collaboration and teamwork, which will encourage the emergence of radical circles. An RC can be a sufficient answer toward providing economic and social capital for the organisation, facilitating encouragement and support, as well as constructive criticism. The potential outcome of the RC is the increased capacity to identify, test, and refine innovative ideas that can facilitate organisational transformation.
Besides, RC can also provide answers to questions associated with the emergent absence of coherent models or techniques for facilitating execution. In case when Singapore Airlines creates a corporate environment in which innovation and change are welcomed, the emergence of a radical circle will generate a new vision that can serve the organisation going forward. Through the change process, which is differentiated into three stages, it is possible to produce successful results that would be strengthened through the alignment of multiple perspectives related to a committed group of individuals-members of the radical circle.
By its definition, a radical circle cannot be created nor facilitated from the higher levels of an organisation. Even encouraging employees to create radical circles may present as unauthentic. The best encouragement to facilitate the emergence of RCs is for the top management to create a setting in which collaboration for the sake of innovation is welcome (Altuna, Dell’Era, Landoni and Verganti, 2017). As mentioned by Verganti and Shani (2016), managers should pay attention to ideas that emerge from the bottom of their organisations, especially the most outstanding and strange suggestions. However, the radical circles’ dynamics, as related to innovation, suggest that the top management pays attention not to any idea but to those that have robust visions.
When employees have the emotional dedication to a plan and develop a concept with great potential, the leaders of an organization should consider it. For Singapore Airlines, radical circles will create a powerful and reliable way of screening out ideas intended to improve the services offered by the organisation in light of recent economic declines and the dropping demand for airline carrier services. Therefore, when bottom-level employees come up with an innovative way of checking passengers in for flights or create highly technological methods of protection for passenger handling, the top management of SIA should take note and evaluate the potential for new improvement opportunities.
Developing an organisational culture that embraces the innovation brought by radical circles will be hard for a large company such as Singapore Airlines. While the organisation has been dedicated to fostering an innovation climate with consistent investment in human capital, the bottom-top approach may be too extreme at first sight. In order for the management to overcome the challenge associated with change resistance, it is recommended to support and protect the autonomous circles created on the basis of mutual interests (Karabal, 2017).
Also, creating spaces and opportunities for open conversations can let the top management get to know the workers at the bottom who may have good ideas and a positive outlook on the future of the company. Overall, the positive outcomes associated with the change process will emerge through welcoming radical circles that have a clear vision and are based on informed decision-making.
Facilitating vision transformation and innovation capability development with the help of radical circles is not an easy task for large organisations like Singapore airlines because the company has already adjusted to a top-down approach toward innovation. However, in light of the current pandemic, when the demand for airline services has decreased, there is a need to facilitate innovation that will make the company attractive compared to its competitors.
Online services need expansion, while protective equipment on flights should be introduced, and all ideas can come from radical circles. While encouraging their emergence at SIA may be forceful change, the higher management of the organisation must foster an environment that would facilitate a move toward innovation.
Areas for further research in the field of radical circles remain vast because of the significant limitations in the volumes and quantities of available studies. For organisations that welcome innovation and collaboration, radical circles will not be disruptive but instead offer a new perspective that has not been considered previously. Singapore Airlines will benefit from the innovation provided that the radical circles have a vision on which a company can capitalise.
The path toward organisational change, therefore, will come from employees and not the top management, activating transformation from the bottom. The ideas that are activated and triggered by small groups of individuals, which come together in an active change process, will facilitate the emergence of mechanisms that will allow companies to refine strategic values and continue the pursuit of strategic values that enable the competitive advantage while also retaining workers and engaging them in the innovative process.
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