The airline industry rides a train that is propelled by many different factors, such as the state of the economy, jet fuel prices, people’s view of the industry itself and the image of the individual airline entity. Founded by Clive Beddoe, Don Bell, Mark Hill and Tim Morgan, WestJet has been riding a different train from the get-go since its inauguration in 1996,. Nobody would have thought that a bottom-up management structure in an airline business would work so well. The culture that they have built is now part of their brand and they are proud of it.
As their culture being part of their brand, the low-cost, no hassle airliner should have some contingency plans in place to secure their business and culture. The culture, at the moment, is “a very relaxed, fun, youthful environment in which creativity and innovation are rewarded” (WestJet airlines). The company looks for younger recruits and actually prefer people with less experience (ref). This will be addressed later on in our document.
Unfortunately, experience is somewhat of a necessity in a business that can suffer tremendous repercussions for human mistakes.
As experience plays a key role in maintaining job confidence and comfortability, it also plays a major role in top management. People, generally, either look up to management or despise top management. WestJet has tried to mitigate this problem by hiring people they think that will match their culture. If they do not fit into the culture, simply put, they are let-go. This can put a lot of pressure on new managers as they may have some pre-flight jitters. Being nervous is one thing but feeling threatened is by no means a light topic.
This is why WestJet has adopted Pro-Active Communication Team (PACT). It is a sort of union analogy, acting as an output for employees to communicate to upper level management and across work groups. Unions often create the image of a “you versus us” mentality and this is damaging to a culture that is founded on a “there is no I but we” mentality. WestJet is trying to lift the company to new heights by empowering their employees. The company is straight forward with its employees. Being straight forward is a good thing but sometimes it can be bad.
WestJet employees have been enjoying profit-sharing like at no other airline company. When things go up, they must come down and that has been the case of WestJet’s recent quarterly reports, stating lower and lower profits (Need a reference to this please). This can send two main messages out to the employees of WestJet: we aren’t doing enough or we are doing enough but it is not doing anything to better us. Humans derive a drive from within themselves and without this drive they do not feel as compelled to do what they are asked of them.
This could hurt the company in the long run if an employee is not diligent. Appropriate recognition schemes are needed to maintain the hard working and entrepreneurial culture WestJet has tried so hard to establish. Recognition, communication, and support need to be addressed for the further growth of employees and customer relations. Consistency with the public and employees need to be maintained. The airline industry is heavily scrutinized by the media. This means that internal problems that affect any part of the business must be dealt with in a transparent and swift manner.
As a business transitions to the next level it encounters new problems that it must address. WestJet has gone from a three fleet airliner to a 76 fleet airliner in a little over 12 years. It still has the feel of a small business, where management is still in the trenches but may no longer sustainable. Below, we have outlined the areas that we believe are paramount to WestJetters and the future of WestJet. WestJet has a strong organizational culture and differentiates itself in the market by emphasizing its people. A major component of its corporate values is surrounding its people’s passion.
This is evident even at the hiring process where the management team is trying to match a strong candidate with the job, ideally somebody who is in line with the culture. To further excel in this challenging industry, it is important for WestJet to continue to strengthen and retain its people. A good way to motivate its employees is by having a recognition program that rewards the workers who demonstrate passion in their work and contribute by going beyond the normal expectations (somebody who exhibits organizational citizenship behaviour).
We propose a system for WestJet to have a point system involving people giving points to other people for outstanding service. Every employee will be able to give a maximum amount of points per year. These points can be used to purchase items off of the company website. At month end meetings, managers can announce stories representing core values of WestJet. The reason for such an implementation of this point system is to eliminate any unnecessary competition within the departments because everyone is given a set amount of points per year.
Essentially, points are not earned for the amount that you do but how you chose to handle your job. Moreover, having the anecdotes read out will inspire others due to the warm fuzzy feeling that it will create. This will create both intrinsic and extrinsic reward for all the employees regardless. A successful implementation of the recognition system will intrinsically motivate workers as opposed to extrinsically and allow people to set new standards for the company. Constantly challenging the existing norm and striving to perform better will allow the corporation to improve together as a whole.
Jet fuel is a very volatile cost in the airline industry. From January 1998 to September 2008 prices have risen from under 50 cents per gallon to over 400. Although prices now seem to be subsiding, hence WestJet’s decision to cut its fuel surcharge, prices are by no means set in stone and could easily grow again. Also prices can change with no warning. This could damage WestJet’s revenue and therefore its culture will be hit. Measures need to be put in place to a safeguard against the possible damage that could be done.
WestJet prides itself on its low cost, no frills service that gets you from A to B without any hassle. With WestJet making the bold move of withdrawing its surcharge, it may need to cut costs elsewhere in order to prevent ticket prices from going up if the price of oil does rise. They may need a cushion which they can fall back on. WestJet has been steadily expanding its need to hire and train many workers annually. This is the first place that rising fuel prices could affect the culture of WestJet. It will have to slow its pace of hiring if it wants to keep these prices down.
In order to keep its culture alive, measures can be put in place. Job enlargement is the process of giving an employee more work of a similar nature to do. It will often mean them carrying out a larger proportion of the production process for the product (Langton 2007). By vertically expanding jobs, WestJet will be able to complete tasks that were normally done by the hiring of more workers, for a better marginal cost. This method also has the ability to increase job satisfaction which may lead to an increase in production without too much extra cost.
However, it is likely that a large proportion of employees may feel entitled to a wage increase to perform more tasks. This is a reasonable request as it is more likely that the increase in each individuals wage is less than the cost of hiring and training new employees. Hiring new employees is a short term solution to alleviate a lack of people power but it can fragment the current workplace culture. WestJet can foster company loyalty and retain its culture by increasing the availability of internal promotion and training.
Ideally, this will instil a sense of attachment to WestJet. This is an example of organizational commitment – a state in which an employee identifies with a particular organization and its goals and wishes to maintain membership in the organization.  With these new skills and responsibilities, productivity may improve. To increase the likelihood of this occurring, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that certain conditions must be met before higher levels can be accessed.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivation theory that is comprised of five needs: physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization. Gaining new skills and responsibilities will satisfy the esteem need, therefore allowing the WestJetter to attain self-actualization. By limiting external hiring, WestJet may focus on the talent that it already has. It can learn to nurture and enrich the ability of existing employees, rather than always hiring more. This can help motivate existing employees as they may be feeling uncertain about their situation if prices do rise.
The opportunity of promotion may also increase the Organizational Citizenship Behaviour of WestJetters. In essence, employees perform tasks that are not formally outlined in their job descriptions but add to the functioning of the company.  Many may feel that if they can show the company skills and behaviour that differentiate themselves then promotions may be more likely. Naturally after a promotion, an employee is more likely to stay with the company, thereby maintaining the culture. We propose further expansion of WestJetters’ jobs.
This is to reduce the need to hire extra people-power. Instead of hiring another potential WestJetter to perform a task, a current WestJetter can be assigned to fulfill this task with minimal training or training on a “Just-in-time” manner. This will require WestJet to provide additional training but only when it is needed and at a lesser rate than hiring a new recruit. Devient behaviour by an employee often occurs during downtime. Job enhancement leads to a job that is more fulfilling that keeps them focused and on task.
The corporate espionage and the turnover of management have created a demand to strengthen the bond between senior management and the individual WestJetter. We will tackle these issues by applying organizational theories of power, communication and values. By applying these theories to WestJet’s situation we will propose specific solutions that can be harnessed to maintain the unique corporate culture of WestJet. With continued expansion, effective communication between senior management and WestJetters will potentially be an increasing source of tension.
Senior management at any organization has legitimate power, which is power one receives from their position within a formal structure. Employees and subordinates will generally respond to this power by complying in performing their tasks (Langton 2007). Ideally, management would like their employees to be enthusiastic and committed to their assigned tasks and duties. WestJetters already have this commitment to the company but not necessarily management. The most effective and easiest method of achieving alignment is by acquiring referent power.
This is gained by an individual or body over time as they exhibit traits, actions, and abilities that the other party can relate to and admire. Referent power is very similar to gaining respect or admiration in the one who is given the power (Langton 2007). WestJet management can achieve referent power by acting responsibly and creating individual connections that can be established through the Management Tour detailed below. Employees and management at WestJet are busy and thus need to communicate efficiently to minimize wasted time and effort.
The most effective way to facilitate greater communication is through a variety of rich channels. These are communication channels that maximize the amount of information exchanged during an interaction such as video conferencing and face to face discussions (Langton 2007). Using rich channels will provide the best opportunity to establish a functioning communication feedback loop where both employees and management feel comfortable expressing their thoughts to each other. This model requires encoding and decoding messages and providing feedback to stimulate further communication (Langton 2007).
Face to face contact will be the primary method that employees will become comfortable bestowing referent power on the senior managers at WestJet. These issues and theories can be put into practice by implementing a Management Tour program. This annual or biannual tour will take 2-4 members of senior management to each of WestJet’s centres of operation. At these events management will present their perspective of the current and future expectations for WestJet performance on a series of measures. The WestJetter attendees will be encouraged to participate with an extensive feedback portion of the meeting.
In preparation, regional managers must be sure to thoroughly explain the purpose and timing of the meetings so that employees can keep track of their suggestions and issues on a continuous basis. This way they will be more likely to feel as if they have an important contribution to make. Meetings should have a pleasant atmosphere with food and a few icebreakers, enabling employees and the CEO to feel comfortable and connected. This style of tour will provide a unique chance for WestJetters throughout the organization to have contact with senior management through a rich communication channel.
The managers will be able to personally understand the issues and concerns of employees from a variety of sectors and locations. The Management Tour will have limitations to its effectiveness. A secondary tour of focus group meetings will be necessary to further address specific issues to employees. These focus groups would entail a single member of management, ideally the CEO, having meetings with 6-10 employees at each of the WestJet operating facilities. Any WestJetter will have the opportunity to participate at one of these focus groups.
The purpose of these smaller meetings is to allow the employee to directly interact with the CEO. The most important factor in the implementation and removal of communication barriers is that the senior staff and general WestJetters’ must value and understand the importance of participating in dialogue and critical thinking as a way to improve the company. This understanding will be encouraged through positive experiences in these meetings and focus groups, as well as by being able to see the outcomes of the sessions.
We suggest that WestJet set up a forum, blog or e-newsletter through which all employees can view the minutes from all regional meetings and read about what is being done to make improvements. Employees may be disinclined to participate actively not only because they don’t see the merits in the process, but also because they do not have the time or energy to invest. We suggest that WestJet account for time committed to the meetings by reducing each employee’s schedule by two hours (the tour will try to target meeting lengths of 1. -2 hours). The meetings will also be held on site in a hanger, cafeteria, or outdoors so that the travel and extra time commitment required by employees is minimal and eliminates the need of reserving a large location. The ideal outcome of this Management Tour and focus groups is that WestJet employees will feel a collective responsibility for improving their company. This in turn should lead to higher job satisfaction, higher organization citizenship behaviour and thus participation in and promotion of WestJet culture.
These two programs working together will foster a functioning feedback loop. The management team and WestJetters will have a greater sense of connection to each other in a way that has been consistent with the success that the organization has achieved. An additional limitation to consider is the increased burden on top management. Air travel can be exhausting and time away from their offices and families can increase stress. We suggest that management be given the opportunity to engage in telecommuting or a flexible work week for a ‘catch-up period’ after each tour.
Telecommuting involves connecting to the office network through a home computer, and may allow the employee to be at home with young children or to de-stress by working from the couch (Langton 2007). A flexible work week could involve allowing the employee to work a longer day for ten out of fourteen days thereby allowing for more time spent at home (Langton 2007). Logistics is another important barrier to consider when implementing the Management Tour. We would suggest that a temporary committee be established to coordinate the logistics of the mangement’s stay at each location.
In line with WestJet’s culture of having employees engage in tasks that are not within their main job title, employees would host the CEO in their homes and offer a means of transportation to and from these meetings. Other employees would be in charge of setting up for the meeting and ordering food, etc. There may be the need for one WestJet employee at headquarters to ensure that all the regional committees are on track and to oversee the broader tasks such as booking airline tickets. However, these tasks could be incorporated into the CEO’s assistant’s job description.
Effective communication is key to the success of any job or situation. Imagine a child and her father. If the father needs to cut her from her soccer team and catches her off guard, his daughter will get disgruntled and storm off. The father will be left trying to pick up the pieces due to his lack of effective communication and his daughter will be unable to play her favourite sport. Both the father and daughter are in a lose-lose situation which needs to be mended immediately. This situation may seem comical but when an employee is given his walking papers, he is not seen laughing.
The management team needs to convey to the entire network of WestJetters of their business plan and goals. More importantly, they must explain to them why it is important to listen so that they can give feedback. Our Management Tour program is designed to stabilize and strengthen the relationship between the upper and lower tiers of the company. Time needs to be taken out by management and employees so that they can participate in dialogue. An idea from any person deserves to be heard, especially if it benefits everyone.
Rick Erikson, an aviation analyst, predicts that the WestJet culture will not suffer from management turnover as the values and behaviours are highly entrenched in the operations of the frontline staff (Teel 2007). However, the negative circumstances of the departure of many senior staff offer the potential to shake the core of the culture that has been meticulously created by the founders. Hypothesized reasons for high staff turnover include: that senior staff have made enough from stock options for retirement to be attractive, or that the burden of work has become too strenuous (Brethour 2006).
There is also the possibility of deep internal factions within the top management portrayed by the departure of several other senior managers in 2006 that coincided with the decision to move from a small Hamilton facility to Toronto‘s Pearson Airport (Brethour 2006). Don Bell and Tim Morgan left without much wake; however, Mark Hill and Russ Hall had more complex departures. Bell opted for an early retirement in 2007, citing personal reasons for the decision (Teel, 2007). He has a low public profile, but was highly engaged, piloting flights about once a week to interact with other WestJetters (Jang 2007).
Bell held a variety of positions within the company and is largely credited for the establishment and maintenance of the WestJet culture (Jang 2007). Morgan left in 2005 and now runs Morgan Air Services Co. Ltd. (Jang 2007). Hill, one of WestJet’s four founders, resigned in 2004 after his involvement in the espionage lawsuit with Air Canada (Teel, 2007). Additionally, Hall resigned in 2006 with speculated that it was because he had been passed over for promotion to president (Calgary Herald 2006). Sean Durfy, a relative newcomer, took the position and has since taken over Beddoe’s position as chief executive officer (Magnan, 2007).
Organizational change can be beneficial when it helps to boost employee morale and job satisfaction. Some ideas of change are implementing a system that allows employees to address their fears and ideas of upcoming changes such as an alliance or formation of a union. Having informal town-hall style meetings, either integrated with or in the fashion of the proposed Management Tour program can help employees feel more engaged with the company and top management. Another opportunity for employees to be notified of major changes or thoughts could be through the forums, blogs, or e-newsletters.
These options for interaction can help alleviate stress that may be felt due to management turnover and an alliance with another airline. Having a direct line of communication between top management and WestJetters leads to company transparency and reduces the formation of rumours. People will also be more willing to accept change if consulted first regarding issues. However, it may be difficult to have such implementations in effect. For example, during town-hall meetings, many people may be too shy to speak up and it could still be difficult to relay important information to a large number of employees.
Also, forums and blogs may not be accessed regularly and run the risk of being misused by employees or intruders. Another drawback to forums, blogs and e-newsletters is that they are low in richness. We propose a combination of both in-person and digital interaction may be a more ideal solution than either method alone. Another way to maintain culture in the face of various threats is to strengthen PACT by emphasizing how the power of numbers can sway an organization. Having workshops and meetings to gather members and encourage participation can help unify WestJetters.
A strong PACT that is able to influence the direction of the company could eliminate the desire or movement towards unionization because PACT will already provide for employees’ needs. In this way, WestJet culture can be retained as it is regulating its own needs without external influences. A strong PACT can also guide new management on the views of employees and how to act in their role. Regarding the threats of past espionage and rising jet fuel prices, a strengthened PACT can support employees amongst themselves in the face of uncertainty and help alleviate fears regarding job security.
New workers may find the transition into WestJet culture easier with the support and guidance that PACT provides as a unified body. It may also allow WestJetters to maintain their unique relationship even in the face of mering two cultures, such as the possible alliance between Southwest airlines and WestJet. In merging difficulties may arise while trying to strengthen PACT, such as forming a new committee, having adequate funding and relaying information to a larger body. Threats to organizational culture previously mentioned may cause dissatisfaction among WestJet employees.
According to psychologist Frederick Herzberg, satisfaction and dissatisfaction for employees in the work place stem from different factors and should not be considered on the same scale. That is, removing dissatisfaction does not directly cause satisfaction. Factors that can cause job satisfaction, or motivators as Herzberg called them, tend to be intrinsic factors. Factors that can cause job dissatisfaction, or Herzberg’s hygiene factors, tend to be extrinsic (Langton 2007). For example, they may feel uncomfortable with change or their job security. These are among factors which psychologist Frederick Herzberg termed “hygiene factors”.
Enhancing hygiene factors such as relationships with supervisors, peers and subordinates; working conditions; supervision and status can lead to less worker dissatisfaction. In WestJet’s situation, this could stem from many reasons. The past acts of espionage could cause employees to feel value incongruence with management. Moreover, management turnover could have employees worried about what changes might be made in the short and long term. On the other hand, hiring difficulties lower in the hierarchy could cause existing WestJetters to worry about their increased workload.
Another concern for employees about their job security is the instability of revenue due to rising costs of jet fuel which they have no control over. To compensate for these dissatisfactions, hygiene factors can be altered to improve working conditions. Improving company policies and training for better supervision could reduce job dissatisfaction. These are two factors that scored high in causing extreme dissatisfaction in Herzberg’s study (Langton 2007). The difficulty in implementing such changes is that some WestJetters may not see the benefits and resist change.
Another difficulty is that changes may take a long time to implement, and some may not be feasible, due to financial or resource related reasons. Although this method of altering hygiene factors, some of which do not relate directly to the threat, will not solve the underlying threats, they will hopefully decrease worker dissatisfaction and maintain WestJet’s upbeat culture. Through e-newsletters, blogs and forums transfer of community and business information can be distributed. As much as people deny that they dislike being addressed when they have done something spectacular, people need to internally keep their motivation at its peak.
Our recognition program rewards out-of-the-box thinkers, hard-working workers and passionate players. People can anonymously vote for somebody who they feel that has given it their all and who deserve a little piece of recognition. This program fits because of the way WestJet hires its staff. WestJet looks for people who are fun, serious when needed to be and competent. Meetings that involve people from all over the company’s sectors will encourage unity. Strengthening their unity will reduce the need for a union as it is not part of the “us culture” WestJet has fought so hard to instil.