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A Blindingly Stupid Example of Change Management

Aug 17, 2007
An airline president wanted his Boeing two-engine 737s to fly faster. He asked Boeing if they could help, and they assured him they could...so they added two additional engines to each airplane.

After a few weeks of service with the added engines, the airline president asked his Operations Manager if his airplanes were flying faster. The president was surprised to hear that, in fact, they were flying slower ... and that the number of oil-related engine failures on the old engines was up dramatically.

The action-oriented, hands-on president decided to investigate first hand and sat in the jump seat as one of his crews got ready for a routine flight. The copilot meticulously read the checklist, and the pilot systematically complied. CoPilot: "Start engines 1 and 2," and the Pilot responded, "Engines 1 and 2 started." The pilots then proceeded to make the flight with two engines running and two engines not in use.

After landing, the president asked the pilots if they were aware of the extra two engines. They were quick to respond: "Are you kidding, of course we are aware! Dragging those things around costs us an extra 15 minutes of time and 3,000 pounds of fuel on that last leg alone!!"

"Then why don't you start them and use them?" asks the bewildered president.

"Hellooo," says the pilot. "Are you kidding? Our union contract specifically states that we fly two-engine aircraft!!"

The president retreated from the cockpit and deplaned to watch the fuel and oil crew do the turn-around of the aircraft for the next flight. He was surprised to watch an obviously confused maintenance man scurry back and forth between the four engines...providing haphazard at best oil level checking and filling.

After the plane backed away from the gate, the president approached the maintenance man to ask him what was going on. The maintenance man responded, "Beats the heck out of me! I'm supposed to be checking oil on two engines before each flight, but I obviously have four to check now...and not enough time or help to get it done before the pilot starts the engines. Besides, I'm still trying to figure out why two of the engines never need any oil and the other two are too hot to approach to put any in!"

The Director of Operations looks up from his desk to see the president storming into the office: "How's it going, boss?"

"Poorly, thanks to you! What have you been doing for the last six months while we were getting the extra engines put on those airplanes!?"

"I've been running the day-to-day operations of this airline! What do you think I've been doing?" replies the DO.

The president is ready. "I know and expect you to be doing that! That's your job! What I'm talking about is what you have been doing - or not doing in this case - to get your flight and maintenance crews to fly airplanes with four engines?"

"I thought that was Charlie's job...he was the Project Manager on the Engine Project," says the DO.

"Not so," says the President. "His job was to work with Boeing and get the engines on and running, and from what I see, he did just that. It was never his job to get the crews ready; they report to you, not to him. It was your job to foresee the union contract problem. It was your job to re-write flight checklists to four engines! It was your job to ensure we had a revised maintenance procedure and extra maintenance people!"

And the dialog continues...

Our goal in presenting this scenario is not to insult anybody with our blindingly stupid example, but this airline clearly needs an industrial strength dose of Change Management!

Clearly the problem has nothing to do with Boeing...their engines work! The technology is there and working (the two new engines), but the manager of the flight crews and maintenance crews has clearly failed in his responsibility to get them ready to work with that technology.

And his failure to get them ready is already producing very poor results...slow flights, wasted fuel, and increased engine failures.

Without proper Change Management owned and provided by the user organization's leadership, many IT system implementations wind up in similar shape! The technology works "technically," but the organization is not ready to use it to get their work done effectively and efficiently.

Failure to ready the user organizations will result in decreased organizational performance and severely decreased employee morale. The goal of Change Management is to keep the organization from looking back some months after implementation and mumbling that what we did was "blindingly stupid!"
About the Author
Get a free copy of the 250-page change manifesto Change is the Rule: Free Change Management Book

Dutch Holland is principal and founder of Holland & Davis, a consulting firm specializing in helping clients implement change.
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