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Identifying areas of improvement: Scenario

In this article, Chris Hope explains, through the use of a case study, how to identify areas of improvement and bring about change.

Let’s now look at a case study which explores a process for identifying areas of improvement with the American airline company, Continental Airlines. 

Firstly, it’s important for us to identify areas of improvement with our team members, and then we can use this information to utilise some improvement strategies. Having a competency framework or some consistent model that shows the skills our team member needs – which can then be compared to the skills that they currently are exhibiting – is a powerful way of achieving this. With clear goals and the ability to measure these effectively, we can properly measure the areas that need improvement with our team members.  

Let’s look at a case study of how we can identify areas of team improvement and use the techniques we have been learning to do so. 

Case study: Continental flies in for a win

When Greg Brenneman flew from Dallas to Houston on Continental Airlines, it was a hot humid day. Greg was recently appointed as a partner at Bain Consulting, and his job was to assess the performance and uplift the performance of Continental Airlines, a major US airline. Brenneman himself had avoided Continental due to its poor reputation, but on this day, he was determined to fly with them. The flight was late, the plane was unclean, and there seemed to be no interaction between the customers and airline staff. 

Brenneman was tasked with identifying areas of improvement at Continental and bringing about positive change. But how did he do that? Brenneman first spoke to employees, did document reviews of policies etc, and reviewed the financial performance of the business. He was also interested in hearing from customers and getting an understanding of the issues that both customers and employees were bringing up.  

Firstly, with his colleagues, he wrote down everything that was going wrong at Continental Airlines from their analysis. They made quick decisions on those, there was no time to discuss every point as the airline was bleeding money every day. They identified four major areas of improvement:  

  1. Many of the routes that the airline was flying were unpopular and running at a loss.
  2. The finances were a mess.
  3. The customer experience was poor.
  4. The culture within the organisation was one where employees were not proud to work for Continental.  

To collect these insights, Brenneman’s team asked questions and took on feedback from employees. They also challenged some cultural norms that existed within Continental to understand more deeply where certain decisions or strategies were coming from.  

They began to make changes to the financials, restructuring their fleet and selling non-strategic or performing assets. They set new goals for customer experience, revisiting the current goals with those teams and setting new benchmarks. They repainted every plane and improved the food service, added a first-class section, and gave all employees training on customer service. For the employees, they offered incentives for flights being on time, changing the current incentive structure that existed purely on the number of flights. They demanded that managers give their teams more autonomy and created a number of subgroups for employees to feed back any issues directly to management. 

They called it the Go Forward Plan, summarised on the next page.

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