Ideas & Debate

Employees key pillar in Kenya Airways revival

kq

A Kenya Airways plane at JKIA. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Summary

  • The critical role of organisational leadership, just like that of a country, is to create an enabling environment for people to deploy their resourcefulness - skills and competencies – to add value to the resources they apply to the business.
  • Leadership must trust their people and occasionally verify where necessary.
  • If there is mistrust and bad feelings among the people you work with, even if all other systems are in place, the business will suffer.

People, given a choice, have an inherent desire to do the right thing, to contribute to the pool and make a positive difference through the work that they do, regardless of the organisation they serve, for profit or non-profit.

There is potential in every person and leaders choose either to unleash or squander the potential.

The critical role of organisational leadership, just like that of a country, is to create an enabling environment for people to deploy their resourcefulness - skills and competencies – to add value to the resources they apply to the business. Leadership must trust their people and occasionally verify where necessary. Avoid breathing down peoples’ necks.

If there is mistrust and bad feelings among the people you work with, even if all other systems are in place, the business will suffer. Infighting within the organisation will always hurt the business.

The leadership of the former KQ CEO Sebastian Mikosz is a case worth learning from. It is a learning opportunity that the new CEO Allan Kilavuka and his team should not waste or else they will repeat the mistakes and fail too.

In an interview published in Daily Nation’s Smart Company magazine on December 24, 2019, the former CEO highlighted the challenges, that in his opinion, led to his failure to revive the airline.

He talked about employees stealing tyres and passing them on for sale in the market without seemingly feeling guilty that they were hurting the very organisation that pays them. Theft by staff is a symptom of a deeper management problem, a strong sense of not belonging by employees. When employees do not have a sense of belonging to the organisation, stealing from it becomes a heroic act, because they are stealing from one whose intention is to exploit them. They are therefore “rightfully” compensating themselves; they are “correcting” the wrongs committed by the employer.

To reverse this behaviour, the new leadership at KQ needs to bring all staff together, regardless of seniority and sincerely let them know that they are in it together. Eliminate the sense of Us vs Them. Let staff know that everyone counts and going forwards the leadership should adopt and practice the mantra- Everyone Matters.

The former CEO talked about use of litigation by the union to block changes even when those changes were in the best interest of the organisation. Use of courts by staff is a symptom of failure of effective communication between business leadership and union leadership. It is a leadership challenge. The court does not add much value, the magistrate forces parties to listen to each other in a controlled environment and in many cases creates a winner- looser situation which worsens the relationship and breeds more tension between the parties. The solution lies in listening to each other even if you do not like what the other party says until you arrive at a compromise — a give and take situation.

Business leaders think they have a choice to either consult or not to consult unions or staff, where there are no unions. The truth is that they have no choice; they must consult staff/unions all the time as they make decisions that affect them. There are higher chances of employees supporting management decisions where management consulted them before decisions were made. Where there was no consultation, resistance from staff is the default reaction.

Going to court or use of litigation is a symptom of poor communication between business leaders and their employees. This lapse is a leadership problem and not a union problem. Business leaders are responsible for provision of leadership to the business and a seamless communication protocol understood by all parties.

The former CEO admitted that “although he had powers to do things, the union insisted in being consulted”. Such statements give the impression that the CEO could choose to dictate or consult. If the CEO needed to succeed, he/she must carry employees with him/her. If you fail to carry employees with you, you will not succeed as a CEO, or as a leader at whatever level.

“I pay them more than British Airways pilots”, the outgoing CEO was quoted as having said so. Employees need more than salaries from business leaders. They need appreciation, recognition; heard of “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Work Place” by Gary Chapman and Paul White? Throwing money at people is like throwing money at problems, it does not guarantee a return on investment.

The new KQ CEO should put his faith in people. This has not been the case in the recent past at KQ. The turnover of human resource managers at the airline confirms this challenge. Human resource managers require demonstrable, unequivocal support from the CEO that employees can see. Such support confirms the CEO’s support for staff issues. Employees perceive human resource managers as employees’ champions in organisations.

As a business leader, if you believe in people, they will believe in you too, and they will rise to the occasion, whatever occasion it is.

The role of leadership is to establish an environment where every single person feels part of a team and has a chance to contribute. When a leader does this, he/she will have created a situation where people can do great things. To succeed in building such an environment, leaders must trust those they work with.

“The shop floor is a mirror reflection of the top floor.”-The “C” suit. One does not look into a mirror and expects someone else’s image. What happens at the shop floor is a reflection of the style of leadership at top floor of the organisation. Organisational leaders therefore, should consider whatever happens at the shop floor as honest feedback to them.

Business Leaders shape and influence the behaviour of employees in their organizations. Whatever behaviour employees exhibit, leaders are responsible for it and should not blame employees.