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Claiming Ownership Of Air Canada

January 1, 1992 -

Faced with huge losses and the necessity of eliminating 4,000 jobs recently, Air Canada is looking to its most important resource, its employees, to nurture itself back to a state of economic health. The key is a new employee motivation plan, designed to recruit the best efforts and commitment of the employees. They are encouraged to form small teams which get together to discuss ways of saving money and making work more efficient. Part of the savings are passed on to them.

Michelle Monette, in charge of the "Idea Action" plan, is enthusiastic about the results of this new approach. She reports that employees are taking to the challenge with enthusiasm. Instead of letting managers manage and employees simply do their assigned task, the object is to have employees "take ownership" of their jobs. Twelve thousand of Air Canada's 20,000 employees were involved in the 13 week idea-generation period, which ended on December 6, 1991. Ninety per cent of the teams wanted to continue, reported Monette. The groups were given one hour per week of company time to meet and discuss ideas and proposals, but some of them even met on their own time. Proposals were submitted to an evaluation committee which had accepted about 30 per cent of the suggested changes.

A team at Dorval airport came up with a plan to save $12,000 per year on cleaning fluid. A group of flight attendants suggested cutting back on the amount of alcohol in onboard drinks, expecting to save some $92,000 per year. Another team found ways to save on cream and sugar for coffee.

"It's changing the way we do business, forever," reported Monette. "Employees are claiming ownership of a chunk of this company. They want to see us get better." A union official for the flight attendants explained that the union supported the new scheme. "The airline industry is in trouble; anything that can save money is worthwhile," he said. (The Toronto Star, December 15,1991, p. H2.)

Employees Take on Responsibility

"Idea Action" is another demonstration of the right kind of management approach. Employees are quite ready to assume responsibility and to use their imagination. Examples of the suggestions indicate that improvements often occur in relatively small ways. But the essence of bringing about true improvement lies in treating people with respect, entrusting them with responsibility, and allowing them the freedom to make decisions. This invariably leads to economic improvements. Air Canada expects the program to generate nearly $25 million in savings for 1992.

Improvements in a company's performance are often a healthy by-product of a superior way of managing people. For the most important result of handing back responsibility to employees is that they begin to develop what Monette calls "claiming ownership of a chunk of the company." People want to be, and should be, valued for who they are and what they can accomplish. The problem with the traditional way of managing is that it deprives employees of the opportunity to experience their jobs as something meaningful and rewarding.

When new ideas about challenge and responsibility are put into practice in the workplace, people invariably respond with enthusiasm. Work becomes more than merely earning a living (important as that is). It becomes an avenue through which we express ourselves as creative, responsible, and social beings. If hard times for businesses force employers to recognize this fact and act in imaginative ways, something good will yet come out of our present difficulties.