UAE Airline Company’s Change Management


Organizations that operate in the present-day competitive business environment cannot ignore the significance of embracing various change concepts to remain operational and profitable. This paper focuses on Organization X, which is an airline company that traces its roots in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. This corporation has experienced considerable changes over the last 10 years. Its implementation of several change concepts has made it a top airline business in the world. This company is currently well known for its quality services in various areas, including the travel and tourism sector. In addition to benefiting from various elements presented in the change toolkit such as the issue of managing resistance to change and workers’ preparedness for transformations, theories such as Kurt Lewin and Kubler-Ross’ change frameworks are found to play a huge role in facilitating an understanding of Organization X’s change process. However, this paper recommends the adoption of John Kotter’s 8-step change framework, which can ensure that this company continues to dominate in the airline industry through prompt and sustainable transformations.

The Need for the Transformation and the Change Toolkit

In a study by Laposi, Dan, and Oţel (2016), various factors inform organizations to adopt change, failure to which they risk losing business. In particular, according to these authors, the level of competition plays a huge role in pushing companies to embrace change. This study offers a real-life organization, namely, Nokia, whose poor change management tactics led to its fall because it failed to move with the pace of competition (Laposi et al., 2016). Hence, Nokia’s quality of products was inferior to those of its rivals such as Motorola, Samsung, LG, and Huawei among others. The issue of preparedness presented in the change toolkit is apparent. According to Cawsey, Deszca, and Ingols (2015), the change toolkit contains various checklists that companies need to consider when planning to undergo some transformations.

Over the last 10 years, Organization X, which forms the basis of this paper, adopted a major change of its organization emphasizing on the need for delivering quality services to its customers in the wake of heightened competition from other airline companies such as Lufthansa Group. This company was aware of the impact that service quality had on retaining clients and attracting new ones, a strategy that has significantly boosted its competitiveness in the market. This transformation was focused on offering superior products and services at competitive prices. Although some changes involve increasing the volume of products offered, Organization X had identified a gap in the travel and tourism market whereby clients were paying exorbitantly for services of meager quality. In an article by Ismail and Yunan (2016), “service quality dimensions, namely tangible, reliability, responsiveness, assurance, and empathy were significantly correlated with customer satisfaction and customer loyalty” (p. 269). As a result, reasonable charges that match with better quality services have seen this company widen its operations in six continents.

The growing demand for travel services in the travel and tourism industry prompted Organization X to respond accordingly. Between 2008 and 2018, Organization X’s fleet of aircraft has more than doubled to the extent that it currently flies to over 155 destinations in the world (“Emirates”, 2018). Specifically, in line with change preparedness concepts presented in the change toolkit, the company under investigation identified customer relationship management (CRM) as an important success factor in its travel and tourism industry. Technologies such as in-flight connectivity, IOT baggage management, and the enhanced use of mobile platforms were also necessary for Organization X to improve its customers’ service experience. In addition, this company found out that the use of big data among other technologies would foster price discrimination in favor of customers. The improvement of its physical and intangible infrastructure also proved to be a key factor in its decision to provide additional jets. To implement this change, the acquisition of modern aircraft that would not only improve customers’ experiences but also boost passengers’ capacity triggered Organization X’s need for change.

The price charged on various commodities and services may sometimes influence clients’ loyalty to a particular company. In this regard, Lee and Fay (2017) argue that offering competitive prices, as observed in companies such as Netflix, Pandora, Hyundai, and Mitsubishi, serves as a strategy for not only retaining the existing clientele base but also attracting a fresh pool of customers. In the current context, Organization X sought to offer customers the best price in the industry to secure their loyalty. Dubai rulers identified the idea of making the city the center of transportation networks. As a result, their goal of making this municipality a region that could link vibrant economies, including China and India to Europe, influenced the need for organization X to embrace price changes to secure more clients and markets. Overall, Organization X’s move to alter the status and pricing of services enhanced its chances of becoming the future of mass travel.

Kurt Lewin and Kubler-Ross’ Change Management Models

Examining the issue of reforms in a company such as Organization X cannot be exhaustive without a mention of Kubler-Ross and Kurt Lewin’s contributions to the field of change. According to Mitchell (2013), Lewin specified three phases that change experts need to consider to succeed in making reforms a permanent component of their organizations. Lewin’s change management framework was significantly deployed during the execution of transformations experienced at Organization X. The model includes unfreeze, change, and refreeze phases (Brown, 2009). In its application of the unfreeze step, the company under investigation emphasized the need for changing the way it offered services to customers.

The change phase required Organization X to emphasize the need for training, incorporating technology, and acquiring modern aircraft. In addition, the unfreeze phase of Lewin’s change management model encouraged this company’s executives to prepare stakeholders for change (Ally, Obasan, & Abass, 2016). Organization X conducted the unfreezing aspect of the restructuring process by improving its services to match the prevailing market demands. This corporation implemented the change phase of Lewin’s model through training its staff to enhance customers’ experiences and acquiring modern aircraft such as Boeing 777 and Airbus A380 (Schonland, 2015). It also deployed technology such as in-flight connectivity, big data, and the use of mobile applications for bookings to facilitate the change process (Schonland, 2015). The refreeze model saw this company institutionalize its customer service improvements.

Organization X applied the refreezing concept by anchoring all changes in its institutional culture. To ensure the sustainability of reforms done, this company secured the support of the Dubai government that not only approved but also facilitated their execution. In addition to creating a reward system for motivating its employees, Organization X established feedback mechanisms that ensured that workers’ opinions were considered during the change implementation process to reduce the level of resistance. The establishment of support and mentorship initiatives also fostered the success of the refreezing aspect of Organization X’s reform agenda. As part of its culture, this company continually monitors and evaluates all change processes to ensure that they translate into superior quality services. In addition, Organization X applied the refreezing aspect of Lewin’s change management model by ordering aircraft that fostered the provision of remarkable services to its esteemed customers.

Kubler-Ross change framework was also deployed during Organization X’s change management endeavor. According to Lawrence, Ruppel, and Tworoger (2014), this change framework has been resourceful in organizations that wish to transition from one culture to another. It addresses five occurrences that stakeholders witness when undergoing various transformations. Kubler-Ross’ five phases include shock and denial, resentment, negotiation, despair, and acceptance (Lawrence et al., 2014). Tim Clark, the president of Organization X, realized that the market was changing to the extent of calling for reforms, particularly in its network and fleet. Despite the slight denial of the urgency and the inevitability of change, Clark accepted the situation and proceeded to adapt promptly to the changing movement patterns from west to east. In line with Kubler-Ross’ element of negotiation, Clark acknowledged the need for bargaining with various governments to access their markets from Dubai (Lawrence et al., 2014).

After accepting the change, this company’s continuous restructuring process has been effective, thanks to the involvement of various stakeholders (Kirkpatrick, 2001). For instance, Dubai ruling elites have acted as change sponsors who have played a huge role in providing the required funding for service improvement. Executives at Organization X facilitate quality improvement efforts as change advocates. Lower-level administrators, including managers, team leaders, and employees, usually perform the role of change agents. Organization X’s workers, particularly cabin crew officials and call center staff members, play the role of change participants who seek to improve customers’ experiences by interacting with them on a daily basis. Furthermore, it is crucial to note that the change process in this organization over the past 10 years could not be effective without the involvement of the Dubai government that has been supportive in approving Organization X’s business plans (“CEO interview,” 2012).

Impact of Embracing the Stated Change Concepts

Although organizations adopt reforms with a view to augment their performance and productivity, it is crucial to mention that resistance from employees and other stakeholders accompanies such transformations. The change toolkit captures this issue as a way of ensuring that companies develop appropriate measures for addressing any opposition. Such mechanisms may include communicating the need for reforms accordingly to all interested parties and involving members in the change decision-making process. The study by Ahmad and Cheng (2018) acknowledges the existence of resistance but goes further to suggest practical ways of dealing with it. According to these authors, “change agents often need to provide quality change communication in the form of accurate, timely, and complete information addressing employees’ concerns” (Ahmad & Chen, 2018, p. 202). However, many reforms usually lead to remarkable results.

For instance, in the current context, the improvement of service quality at Organization X led to incredible progress for this airline company. In particular, reforms resulted in the growth of passenger capacity, the expansion of the company’s aircraft fleet, enhanced client experience and satisfaction, improved customers’ loyalty, and increased profitability levels (Lee & Fay, 2017). Figure 1 below shows Organization X’s 15-year growth in its passenger capacity and aircraft fleet after embracing the stated change concepts and models.

Growth of Organization X’s passenger capacity and aircraft fleet over the years.
Fig. 1. Growth of Organization X’s passenger capacity and aircraft fleet over the years (Schonland, 2015).

According to the information presented in Figure 1 above, this company’s fleet has grown by 636% since 2000 (Schonland, 2015). The last 10 years have seen its fleet grow by over 100%. Today, Organization X acquires wide-body aircraft, including Boeing 7777 and Airbus A380, to enhance customers’ experiences. This company has the largest number of modern jets in its fleet compared to its rivals. It has recorded growth in its passenger capacity over the years. Specifically, the number of customers served between the fiscal year 2009/2010 and 2017/2018 has more than doubled (Schonland, 2015). This accomplishment implies that clients prefer superior services offered by Organization X in comparison to those of its rivals who have failed to embrace reforms regarding quality and pricing.

Furthermore, adopting the stated change concepts influenced Organization X’s culture in aspects ranging from the commitment of its management team and employees’ involvement in the embracement of technology. The study by Ally et al. (2016) confirms that change management is directly correlated to workers’ engagement. In addition, these authors find a positive link between employees’ opposition to reforms and the effective or ineffective execution of change initiatives (Ally et al., 2016). Regarding the dedication of Organization X’s management personnel, this company embraced a strong institutional culture that underlined the need for optimizing customer services. Its leadership further adopted a philosophy that currently bolsters the delivery of high-standard services. In terms of employees’ involvement, the management now hires employees from diverse backgrounds. Although the article by Ursil and Fayaz (2017) argues that diverse labor force does not result in remarkable organizational results, O’Brien, Scheffer, van Nes, and van der Lee (2015) refute this claim by pointing out the extent to which diverse employees lead to outstanding group performance due to the sharing of different and constructive ideas regarding a particular task.

In the current context, Organization X’s diverse pool of employees is linked to the exceptional performance it has recorded for the past 10 years. This personnel change has seen this company’s culture focus on continuous improvement of customer experiences. Regarding high tech, Organization X’s corporate culture is founded on the awareness that present-day businesses can only remain competitive after tapping the potential brought about by technology. Some of the notable technologies adopted by this company include CRM software, in-flight connectivity, IOT baggage management, and the use of big data (Pasha, 2014). Organization X’s management concentrates on the acquisition of the most modern and eco-friendly aircraft when developing its fleet. Technological innovations brought about by embracing this change have enhanced customers’ satisfaction levels. Many of Organization X’s functions now rely on technology to achieve customer service excellence.

The Suggested Change Model for Organization X

Although Organization X has made considerable strides in terms of performance and profitability, thanks to its deployment of Kubler-Ross and Kurt Lewin’s change management framework, it can achieve better results by adopting John Kotter’s 8-step change model. This company needs to embrace this framework to increase the acceptance of continuous and sustainable improvements. This model has been proven effective in eliminating obstacles associated with change implementation such as resistance from workers. This framework can help Organization X to establish a team that is dedicated to reinforcing the change. Through Kotter’s transformational model, this company will not only realize the significance of clarifying its vision for change but also unceasingly communicate the purpose of the transformation. According to Anderson (2014), Organization X also needs to embrace the idea of staff empowerment, develop short-term goals, maintain persistence, and make the change permanent.

Ensuring speedy and sustainable change execution forms part of the change framework established by Kotter (Kotter & Cohen, 2012). Organization X should focus on maintaining the change process by reinforcing its systems, structures, and policies. For instance, the adoption of a policy that encourages this company to incorporate technological systems to foster the automation of its processes denotes another way in which Kotter’s change management theory can be productive. Moreover, it needs to increase customers’ comfort by acquiring more wide-bodied aircraft for it to gain optimally from its change management strategies. In addition to enhancing in-flight entertainment to promote customers’ experience, this organization can widen its network of operations to allow clients from all over the world to witness superior services.

Conclusion

The overall goal of implementing a specific change in a company is to enhance the existing performance and productivity levels. However, it is crucial to point out that many change concepts may not yield the required improvements. As a result, an organization is expected to explore strategic reforms that produce the most favorable results. Organization X that was established in 1985 started operating with only two airplanes, namely, Airbus 300 B4 and Boeing 737. To enhance its reputation through quality services, this company implemented various transformational concepts, including theories presented in the change toolkit and Kurt Lewin and Kubler-Ross’ frameworks. Despite the significant strides made after implementing these change models, this paper has recommended the application of John P. Kotter’s change framework that allows Organization X to benefit more from speedy and sustainable restructuring processes.

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