Rapid changes in the fast growing economies of the world have affected the management of organizations. Various organizations have adapted to change in a bid to be in line with the prevailing trends triggered by the effects of globalization that require endurance. For instance, the move towards digitalized economies implies that employees have to adapt to the new advancements that improve the efficiency of an organization towards goal attainment in the long term. One particular industry that that has been affected by waves of organizational change in the region is the aviation sector. The focus of this paper will be on the various aspects of organizational change surrounding Emirates Airlines, which is a leading air transport services provider in the Middle East.
Organization Description and Historical Perspective Regarding Change
Emirates Airlines made its inaugural flight in 1985, and over the years, it has scaled the heights to become one of the best air transport services company internationally. The company started with only two aircrafts by then plying routes from Dubai to the neighboring Middle East destinations (Nataraja & Al-Aali, 2011). The organization’s management has ever since increased the number of routes served by Emirates Airlines to almost every country. A distinctive feature of the company is its flexibility and efficiency, which led to the opening up of Dubai to the outside world reinforced by the UAE’s modern aviation facilities (Nataraja & Al-Aali, 2011).
Over the years, Emirates Airlines has excelled in the management of its operations courtesy of an efficient organizational structure. Due to the rapid changes leading to the need for quality services, competition from other companies such as Qatar Airways within the industry has intensified, thus triggering organizational changes. The changes have seen Dubai airport being listed amongst the top five busiest aviation facilities in the world with over 150 Fly Emirates aircrafts plying over 200 destinations worldwide (O’Connell, 2011).
At the helm of the company’s management is Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, who us commonly referred to as ‘His Highness’. His organizational responsibilities span over 25 years as the chief executive officer of the Emirates Airlines Group. He has been instrumental in initiating economic prosperity of the UAE, thus leading to an increase in foreign trade promoted by the sophisticated airline services (O’Connell, 2011). In 2007, he initiated some changes within Emirates Airlines, thus underscoring the restructuring of the organization (Nataraja & Al-Aali, 2011).
The restructuring led to the formation of the Dubai Airports and Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA) to enhance the efficiency of the airlines through improved ports’ management and regulations. The move was aimed at improving the management of the organization by splitting ownership of the port and control through interdependency. In a bid to implement the changes, Sheikh Ahmed was made the chairperson and the president of Dubai Airport and DCAA since his transformational leadership qualities were evident (Nataraja & Al-Aali, 2011).
At the macro level, a diagnosis of the underlying factors influencing the change indicated that the company has to unveil new routes with the objective of satisfying their target groups. This goal was achieved though unveiling the “FlyDubai” flights plying over 40 destinations, targeting tourists to the Arabian Gulf region. The motive was to integrate the outside world into the Dubai’s culture as a way of adapting to competition and capitalizing on the global tourism opportunities. According to Wilson (2007), change in the organization of Emirates Airlines to accommodate “FlyDubai” can be seen as an adaptive measure taken to be in synchrony with the current tourism and aviation trends.
Causes for organizational change
The aviation industry has been characterized by stiff competition from established service providers. In the Middle East, Emirates Airlines faces rivalry from the likes of Qatar and Etihad Airlines. In an ambitious attempt to compete with the two Gulf carriers for the US market share, Emirates Airlines introduced a new route to Chicago in 2014. Consequently, organizational changes occurred for the already existing management of flights to other eight destinations in the US had to accommodate the additional destination. Therefore, the new competitive culture necessitated by rivals played a central role in influencing organizational change at the managerial level in that case.
According to Boonstra (2013), the internal environment within an organization causes change. Myers, Hulks, and Wiggins (2012) argue that an organization’s culture in terms of systems, attitudes, and management styles significantly influences its transformation. The set rules and regulations are expected to be strictly observed by the Emirates Airlines’ employees, hence guiding the code of conduct.
Rigidity caused by the bureaucratic nature of such an organization is believed to have triggered cultural misunderstandings in the past as employees sought to propose new norms and values. An analysis of the underlying factors showed that some rules interfered with the culture of a section of the workers. This aspect required modifications to loosen the rigidity of the organization in order to accommodate diversity. In this light, cultural expectations put forward by the bureaucratic nature of organizations such as Emirates Airlines cause structural transformation.
Barriers to organizational change
The massive organizational changes within Emirates Airlines were not easily attained after diagnosis. The restructuring of the organization in terms of increased flights and new routes had a bearing on the corporate culture. The implication of this move is that employees had to adapt to the new changes imposed by management affecting the organizational culture. Behaviors, norms, systems, values, expectations, and visions constitute the organizational culture of an organization. The Emirates Airlines’ employees to some extent seemed to resist the changes due to the friction that culture shift had on the traditional values.
Resignation threats by some employees emerge whenever companies propose expansion plans (Nataraja & Al-Aali, 2011). Some argue that there is no logic in recruiting more employees, yet the current remuneration systems have not been reviewed in their favor. Consequently, the Emirates Airlines’ human resource department has been under pressure whenever there are intentions of restructuring the organization’s labor force element. In this regard, barriers to smooth transformation exist in the reward systems, since employees tend to have the fear of the unknown when prevailing constraints are not sorted.
Integrating the changes proposed for organizational restructuring threatens a company’s success (Senior & Swailes, 2010). Recently, Emirates Airlines, through the Emirates Aviation College (EAC), has been recruiting and training new employees into the organization, thus necessitating the need to accommodate new characters into the culture of the organization. Integrating the new staff requires an effective management of diversity whereby current employees are expected to socialize the company’s newbies into its culture. Poor integration into the system has elicited barriers to efficiency in management at various levels given that the organization recruits new staff members regularly.
Environmental concerns have been a major consideration for Emirates Airlines before embarking on any changes. Environmental conservation agencies have been criticizing the environmental sustainability of Emirates Airlines. Sir Tim Clark, who is the president of the Emirates Airlines, together with his executive board examined the issue and made plans aimed at shifting towards greener air travels. Resources were set aside for investment in eco-friendly planes. This aspect underscores the need to purchase lighter aircrafts, which are capital intensive in the name of “eco-efficiency”. However, this barrier is beneficial in the long-term since it observes aviation ethics by incurring costs at the expense of environmental sustainability.
Stages of change involved in comparison to Lewin’s model of change
According to Senior and Swailes (2010), facilitating change in an organization entails following certain procedures so as to ensure smooth transformation. Emirates Airlines has been facing waves of challenges with its human resource in instances of new recruitments into the organization. The human factor in an organization substantially accounts for its success as enhanced by both formal and informal relationships, and thus the Emirates Airlines had to employ strategies at various levels to relieve the labor strife.
In March 2015, allegations from the Emirates cabin crew emerged with complaints that the remuneration system was not fair (Steiner, 2015). The unhappiness initiated the first stage of organizational behavioral change as grievances on layover periods, long working hours, and evaluation of their performance were raised. The implication is that organizational culture was bound to change arising from the complaints from staff members. In response to the allegations, the management conducted a number of conflict resolution meetings in order to calm down the situations that it could not interfere with normal operations (Vespermann, Wald & Gleich, 2008).
Using the Lewin’s model of change, the Emirates Airlines can be evaluated accordingly with the steps it took to assess the situation. This approach involves three steps, viz. unfreeze-change-refreeze. In the first phase, the organization seeks to accept the impending change, thus preparing the human resource for the changes.
Emirate Airlines first reaction was to hold meetings with the cabin crew members as they communicated the intended changes with their performance evaluation systems. Unfreezing entails starting with the core aspects propagating the change and the move was seen to be in line with the Lewin’s model. The first stage was characterized by difficulty; hence, controlling the crisis was the primary goal at this level. However, they managed to identify the underlying issues and promised to make changes.
The Lewin’s second stage entails change. At this level, communication and time are essential for a smooth transformation. Boonstra (2013) insist that this step involves dealing with uncertainties emanating from the first step. In an effort to alleviate the current crew from working for long hours, the company took the step of promising to hire not less than 5000 attendants, thus contributing to a 6% growth of its labor force by the end of 2015. In this case, the change process was projected to take time as new workers were to be integrated into the organization’s culture through extensive training by the human resource department.
Refreezing is the third stage in the Lewin’s change model. This stage takes effect when the proposed changes are taking effect, and there is a need to resume normal operations (Myers et al., 2012). In an endeavor to facilitate refreezing, the CEO encouraged communication through dialog, by instilling a new culture of addressing internal issues as opposed to airing them to the public first. The management also promised to be sending quarterly email updates to its workforce.
Consequently, this move created a sense of leadership support where the needs of the staff members were addressed in a new manner, thus altering the bureaucratic challenges existing before. The refreezing process was further enhanced by increased recruitment of aviation trainees into the Emirates Aviation College (EAC). The company is said to have invested over AED 73 million in the year 2014 for purposes of cabin crew training. The reward systems were also reviewed where the top performers started receiving promotions, thus facilitating motivation among the workers.
Sustainability of the organizational change experienced
For the sustainability of the initiated organizational changes, Emirates had to intensify cohesion and morale among its crewmembers. Sir Tim Clark, the Emirates Airlines’ president, advocated the training of more aviation recruits, the participation of employees in the decision-making process, and efficient communication as essentials for the sustainability of the new organizational culture.
The growth of the aviation giant was also the organization’s target, whereby the management sought to identify new markets for the sustainability of operations in the long-term. Therefore, Emirates Airlines manages organizational change internally and externally by applying strategies such as the Lewin’s change model in advance for sustainable growth. An expedition of sustainability has been through measures such as effective communication, training, reward systems, environmental consciousness, and venturing into new markets.
Every organization has to go through the transformation path in a bid to attain sustainability. Change in an organization causes thoughts of uncertainties among employees and top managers to the extent of resulting in stress, thus causing inefficiency. In the case of Emirates Airlines, underlying factors influencing organizational change had to be evaluated in a bid to eliminate the barriers to successful transformation. It was commendable that the management handled the triggering factors in a professional manner through the various change-facilitation steps. The successful transformation of organizations should embrace new technologies, equip employees with new skills, and manage cultural diversity coupled with enhancing products and services among other strategies in an efficient manner that promotes sustainability.
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