Case Study: Changing the Culture at British Airways


Jick & Maury (2011) have collected many case studies related to change management in different organizations. Change management is not an easy task and requires innovative techniques to be successful in implementing a desired change. Management and leadership have a big role to play in change management. We have studied some of the case studies during the last few weeks. I have selected the case study, Changing the Culture at British Airways for this assignments. This case study is related to the turning around of British Airways from a company in loses to a successful company. British Airways was formed by the merger of other airway companies into one British Airways in 1971. The company had management and financial issues since its start. It was in dire need of a kind of leadership which had the capacity of making tough decisions to turn it around to be profitable. The problems that British Airways has were mostly due to mismanagement and the lack of motivation among the employees. The current leadership was unable to sort out ways in which these problems could have been addressed effectively. Therefore the company had a leadership change in 1981 in order to bring abrupt changes to make it a successful Airline of the world. The case study has shed profound light on the different issues that British Airways had and how the new leader i.e. John King addressed these issues and lead the company to be a success.

Issues at British Airways

There are many issues presented in the case study. I would like to discuss some of them here. The first issue that I have observed is the fact that there are many employees who are in surplus, meaning their services are not required but they are still a part of the organization. There are many implications of these kinds of employees. For example they put unnecessary financial burden on the organization. They exhaust financial resources that can be spent on the training of other employees. The employees who do not have a task to perform would cause disturbance in the duties of other employees. They would have enough time to be a part of gossips in the organization.

The case study also discusses the lack of leadership to control organizational operations in a way that they are productive. For example the current leadership is doing nothing about the surplus employees. The current leadership is also unable to address the issues of the decrease in the customers over the time.

British Airways also had a non-professional customer service. This customer service was unable to catch up to the needs of their customers. The customer service which should have been a source of good name for the company had turned out to be a source of making more and more dissatisfied customers who did not trust British Airways. British Airways was in need of loyal customers who do not use their services just once but keep visiting them for their travel needs to keep the company run its operations smoothly and without financial difficulties. The present customer services needed specialized training to be able to understand customer needs and respond to these needs in an efficient manner.

The Change Process

Umar (2015) suggests that the role of a leader is vital in a change process as the types of risks and decisions a leader can make can affect the outcomes of the change process enormously. British Airways change process was superbly handled by its new CEO, John King in 1981. Since his joining the organization, John King had realized that there was a need to let go some staff members as they were surplus. He planned to fire 20% of the workforce within 9 months which was challenging. Some employees were identified as non-productive and were fired straightaway. Other employees were given an opportunity to take advantage of a severance package which proved to be a big help in making the choice of many employees to leave the company easy. I think that this was a great way to make the change process happen smoothly without protests or targeting only some employees. The process was transparent and increased the trust of the different employees in the leadership of John King. I think that John King successfully played his part in the progress of British Airways before it was handed over to a new CEO.

Colin Marshal who took charge of British Airways as CEO in 1983 also contributed highly to its success. He focused on getting more customers to fly with British Airways and started to offer training programs to his staff members. The primary aim of the training programs was to ensure that the employees knew how to deal with customers and fulfil their needs so that they might become long term customers.


I learned a lot from the case study. The main thing that I learned from the case study is that each and every organization should look for innovative ways to make the organization better with time. Change should not be resisted but accepted. The role of leadership is really important to be a source of change in an organization. Leadership must be able to make tough decisions to set an example for his followers. I think that the leadership should not be resistant to accepting the ideas given by other employees as who knows who come up with an idea that could help the organization take an unexpected leap in the positive direction.