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Alaska Airlines Navigating Change

Solution Id Length Case Author Case Publisher
2611 2005 Words (8 Pages) Bruce J. Avolio, Chelley Patterson, Bradford Baker Ivey Publishing : W14722
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The study explores the case of Alaska Airlines, a Seattle-headquartered airline founded in 1932 as McGee Airways ranked fifth largest in the United States, which had recently recovered from a period of operational instability. Despite being ranked by J.D Power and Associates as having the highest customer satisfaction among the traditional airlines for eleven consecutive years, its executives worried that the airline was draining its reserves of customer loyalty and goodwill, due to losses over the past two years and variability in its statistics for on-time flights and mishandled baggage. Among other problems, a culture of laziness was also starting to develop in the company. After focusing many resources on operations to regain stability, the senior executives, who had come into power recently and were under great pressure to revive the airline, wondered whether the organization could endure if performance were to slip again.”

Following questions are answered in this case study solution:

  1. What tools could Alaska Airlines leaders have used to increase their awareness of internal and external issues?

  2. Which issues are foreseeable, and which are completely unpredictable

  3. How might Alaska leadership have anticipated some of the problems that emerged in the awareness state, thereby avoiding some of the consequences noted?

  4. What aspect of Alaska Airline’s organizational culture reinforced what occurred in this state, and how might a focus on transforming its culture have averted some of the problems?

  5. If you were to have coached the top management team early in the new millennium, what might you challenged them on in terms of their leadership at Alaska?

  6. What typical factors contributed to the challenges that affected Alaska Airlines? What factors unique to the airline industry contributed to Alaska Airlines’ problems?

Case Study Questions Answers

1. What tools could Alaska Airlines leaders have used to increase their awareness of internal and external issues?

Among the bold decisions made by the top management of Alaska Airlines was of outsourcing the ramp work to an outside vendor. Operations, uninterrupted in any way by the termination of the existing employees, went on smoothly for the first few days after the decision. However, after the rise in demand during the holiday season, the outsourced staff were caught unprepared in managing the volume properly. Therefore, the operations were impacted heavily. The existing top management, since it was not experienced, was not able to come up with an effective strategy to cope with the issue at hand which forced a change in leadership. The newer leadership, then, was adamant to enforce newer policies which created pressure in the workplace. Under that pressure, employees were beginning to stress out and perform unsatisfactorily which Alaska could have identified as well as rectified if they had made use of a few tools. 

Some of the most critical identifiers of employee success are explained by the “Job Characteristics Model” developed by Hackman and Oldham. Being a helpful tool, it could have predicted the success of the outsourced employees in Alaska’s case. Among the major identifiers, the model proposes are “skill variety”, “task identity”, and “task significance”. As is evident from the name itself, skill variety refers to the distinctness of the skills required to complete a task. Task identity revolves around the extent to which an employee can identify with a distinguishable piece of work. Task significance relates to the importance and meaningfulness of the task from the employee’s perspective. Hence, the problems could have been greatly minimized if Alaska had used this model to adapt the jobs in terms of skill variety and make them more meaningful as well as identifiable for the employees. 

Moreover, the opportunity for the employees to give feedback on their feelings and concerns regarding their work is an immensely effective tool to gauge the problems. Asking for feedback could have resulted in a better understanding of the issues by the management and turn greater clarity in the instructions provided to the employees. In addition, we know that employees are generally wary of being observed as highlighted by the results of the Hawthorne experiments. Therefore, Alaska should have allowed them some degree of freedom in their work and ensured they did not feel as being heavily monitored. It could have resulted in greater comfort for the workers as well as better performance.

2. Which issues are foreseeable, and which are completely unpredictable?

Some of the issues could be identified beforehand while others were not predictable. Among the foreseeable issues was the rate at which the advancements in technology were happening and how the competition was changing over time. Moreover, Ray Vecci, with his opposition to the “Departure on Time” reporting requirements, had hinted at the gradually developing culture of “it’s okay to be late as long as we are nice” in the company. Also, the effects of two consecutive plane crashes could have been forecasted as well. The company, by a look at the financial statements, could have realized the issue of labour cost disadvantage as well. Labour dissatisfaction could have also been recognized if the company had asked for feedback.

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