Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Industrial Disputes - Then and Now

I don’t know the details of the recent industrial dispute at British Airways but in a virtual discussion with a virtual friend and regular Simplicity contributor David Wike we've shared thoughts about the implications of industrial disputes in 2007 compared with a few years ago.

Let’s be frank, in the ‘old days’ an industrial dispute was a fight
It was unions against managers
It was pistols at dawn
It was daggers drawn
It was war
It was the survival of the fittest
It was ‘too hell with customers’

I think things have changed dramatically.

Nowadays because customers have so much choice they don’t really care what is happening in such disputes because the customer will merely vote with his/her feet and go somewhere else for a service that can be provided without the hassle of disruption due to some parochial argument between management and workers.

It seems to me this culture change will require a totally new approach from senior managers and leaders to sort out disputes with the CUSTOMER IN MIND FIRST rather than their own respective and relatively less important agendas.

Maybe I am wrong and I would be fascinated to hear your views.

My understanding is that many regular BA customers defected to Virgin last week because they had no other option. BA Senior Managers must surely be wondering if those customers are lost forever. Whether or not they are I wonder what BA managers have learned through this dispute.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the acknowledgement Trevor, but I am a bit perplexed. You have reported a virtual conversation with a virtual friend. This leaves me wondering whether either of us exists! Well, I know I do but do you? Could you be the real Gerald Wiley? (For the benefit of non-UK readers, this was the name used by actor and comedian Ronnie Barker to disguise his true identity when he was submitting scripts for his own comedy programme, hence avoiding being favoured over other writers.)

Can anyone vouch that Trevor is real? Has anyone ever met Trevor – when I have tried to arrange to have a coffee with him he is ‘a bit busy at the moment’. After all, anyone can post pictures of a bald bloke in a dress and claim it to be himself!

OK, back to industrial relations. In ‘the bad old days’ of 70s Britain, strikes, often unofficial, tended to be the first course of action in a grievance rather than a last resort. It is well documented that there were union leaders who had an agenda that wasn’t about the well-being of their members. Fortunately those days are long gone and what was known as ‘The British Disease’ seems to have crossed the Channel to France.

However, there are still some areas where industrial practice and industrial relations have a way to go. From my own experience, management sometimes lacks sensitivity to the way people feel about certain issues and behave in a way that would start an argument in an empty room. But equally, employees in some organisations need to wake up to the fact that the Chinese, Indians and others can do many things as well as the West and for a fraction of the cost.

Only those who are flexible in their attitude and totally focussed on providing an excellent customer experience will survive in the long term. The exception will probably be Trevor’s beloved NHS – well until it is possible for surgeons in China to do virtual operations on real patients in the UK!

And finally, for anyone relying on Trevor’s blog for reports on the English soccer scene, you might like to try the BBC website’s football page where you will discover that there are other teams than just Manchester United!

Trevor Gay said...

That coffee will happen in February David –that was our deal – you are buying I think :-)

Trevor’s beloved NHS?? …. Mmmmm ‘beloved??’ … I remember that day in 1986 – In the words of Jo Walsh (The Eagles) ‘I think it was a Tuesday.’

David is a Liverpool fan but despite that he is a nice bloke – virtually!