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A BLOCKBUSTER BRAND RESETS THEIR CULTURE AND LEADERSHIP CAPACITY IN THE FACE OF CHALLENGE AND UNCERTAINTY

THE CHALLENGE

In 2013, a series of significant changes were executed throughout the operations of a high-profile international airline and its transatlantic tour subsidiary. Just as a global competitor acquired 49% of the company in a joint-venture agreement, a new CEO took over to manage the transition and the wave of consequential decisions. The post-merger plan implemented by senior leadership included layers of new systems and procedures and unexpected headcount reductions.

Staff had become vocal about their fatigue and frustration, articulating demands for more cabin crew, less pressure on back-office operations, and stronger support from leadership. Employees also felt they were losing the essence of their popular brand and what it had contributed to their unique selling point. Moreover, the company anticipated additional changes and growth — and the need to manage it successfully — in upcoming years.

THE CALL TO ACTION

The business leaders recognised their people were incredibly committed to the organisation and more than competent, however based on disappointing engagement scores, anecdotal feedback, widespread disaffection, and the pressure of external trends, they faced critical unmet challenges throughout the organisation. Change fatigue had left employees feeling undervalued as they stretched to do more with less, and people were struggling with work/life balance.

The leaders saw the need to build leadership capabilities across the organisation and embed a culture of personal accountability and individual initiative to increase employee wellbeing and elevate performance.

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Why Flourishing Matters…

Flourishing is beyond wellbeing. It’s about people consistently and reliably operating at their best. When people build their inner resources, they will deliver results, even in the most challenging of times. When people flourish, they have the enhanced capacity and resilience to deliver for the organisation.

I am taking away a lot, feel really lucky to work for a company that invests in out physical and mental wellbeing
— Flourish participant in key leadership role

Central to The Flourish Initiative approach was an intention to build “inner resources” — personal capacity for individuals — in order to deliver outer organisational capability and results. With the capacity to manage external pressures, people would be much better equipped to produce the business results needed.

The Flourish Initiative team worked with the client to create an engagement that was focused on building the foundation for the company’s 2019 strategy and beyond.

The engagement was designed to:

  1. build alignment across the business leadership and the wider employee community

  2. develop the capabilities required to navigate current performance and engagement gaps as well as likely future disruption

  3. elevate awareness of the foundations of wellbeing and increase personal accountability for people to operate consistently and reliably at their personal best

  4. build an ethos and culture of ‘beyond wellbeing’ the business, shifting the mindset behaviours of leaders and putting people at the heart of the business

  5. restore the faith of employees that leaders genuinely cared about them; and

  6. develop the capacity and resilience needed to navigate current challenges and increasing demands arising from the unknown future and disruption across the industry

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THE WORK

Working with the business leaders, Karen Downes, founder and CEO of The Flourish Initiative, designed and launched a three-phase transformational performance programme across all sectors and geography of the business, from cabin to engineering, finance to airport operations, spa to commercial.

The overarching goal was to move the current paradigm from a work environment where people were “surviving” to one where people were engaged and operating at the highest possible levels of engagement. Generating this kind of organisational movement would be the pathway to accelerated high performance and business prosperity.

The first phase was a comprehensive assessment of the current environment including confidential, one-on-one conversations with key influencers. These stakeholders included the senior leadership team as well as 50 nominated business leaders who agreed to offer their observations about the organisation from a people, culture, and future perspective.

The assessment results offered a candid view of the current reality of the organisation. It was apparent how incredibly dedicated and competent the workforce was; this in fact appeared to be adding to the challenge as many people were so committed to their teams and the company, they were burning themselves out. The assessment also highlighted the following serious challenges;

  • Confusion and cynicism stemming from mixed messages about business decisions

  • A lack of aligned purpose, vision, and values across the company

  • Fatigue and burnout from constant uncertainty and increasing demands

  • A prevalent sense of feeling undervalued and unappreciated

  • Upset about decisions perceived as transactional, contrary to their brand and identity

These findings informed the design of the second phase of the engagement: a bespoke two-day development programme for over 1,700 leaders. This broad group of stakeholders included C-suite executives and leaders from all areas of the business, as well customer facing members of the team. Since the overarching need was not to develop skill and competency, but rather for capacity building, the Flourish team designed a curriculum based on what it takes to flourish, personally and professionally.

The Flourish programme was both informational and experiential, so participants could understand, internalise and embody the work. The two days included aspects on physical wellbeing, emotional intelligence, mental agility and personal fulfilment; these were combined to create a whole person approach to human flourishing. Participants were given practical tools in communication and managing their own internal states, while expanding their self-awareness and recognising the impact they have as leaders across the business. The programme included practical ways to manage their emotional triggers and increase their focus and productivity, regardless of the circumstances. It also illuminated the prevalent organisational practice of “toughing it out” and the limitations of that approach, with a steer towards a shared understanding of resilience rooted in sustainable wellbeing and performance.

The final phase of the engagement was a train-the-trainer course, where the Flourish team trained 20 of the company’s facilitators to lead a modified one-day version of the two-day programme, so this work could be made available more widely across the organisation.

As key concepts and practices began to resonate with leaders and their teams, scepticism gave way to progress. People began to express a restored faith in a company that was willing to invest in its people; not in performance forsaking wellbeing, but rather, in their improved wellbeing as a pathway to improved and reliable business results and leading more fulfilling lives.

If leaders ignore the wellbeing of their people and don’t give them the tools they need to flourish, they will end up with people showing up for a paycheck versus bringing their discretionary effort and dedication to the business.
— Karen Downes, Founder and CEO, The Flourish Initiative

THE RESULTS – SHIFTING FROM FINITE TO INFINITE

The mission to energise and empower people, create a cultural change and shift from organisational profitability to prosperity gained momentum over the course of the engagement.

As is often the case when navigating uncharted territory, the work to empower a paradigm shift was met with a degree of resistance. Initially some participants failed to see the relevance to their specific concerns and needs as job capability and skill training for performance had become the norm. Capacity building and resilience training for life was a new concept that took time to be adopted. One of the important messages that awakened a new awareness was that time, money and people are finite resources, yet our own inner human resources of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual capacities can be renewed and expanded, and are infinite.

As a result of the programme, individual leaders across the business implemented new practices to support themselves and their teams to manage the dynamic challenges they were facing and create new ways of working and communicating that supported every individual. Each participant took on a new practice to support themselves, and expansive company-wide initiatives were created to support participants in implementing these. Each participant left the programme with a buddy from a different area of the business so they could support each other in embedding the Flourish principles into all areas of their lives.

An increase in personal accountability for people’s work and lives was seen across the organisation and this was invaluable, not only for individuals but for the leadership of the business; people were no longer simply expecting the company to fix their problems, but rather looking at what they could take personal responsibility for.

As the delivery of 49 Flourish programmes was completed in November of 2018, the participant survey results showed that the FLOURISH programme earned an average score of 8.8 — on a scale of 1 to 10 — when people were asked if they would recommend the programme to a colleague.

The company’s leaders continue to place the highest value on the Flourish programme for employee engagement because they understand that the key to performance is the extent to which employees feel valued and cared for and apply discretionary effort every day. Engaged employees will consistently go the extra mile and to take that for granted is not only a missed opportunity, but it can be a mistake.