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Getting Everyone Aboard

US Airways Group is launching several programs to ensure that members of its newly merged workforce don't feel like corporate orphans.

January 20, 2006
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From small niceties such as new furniture in break rooms to an e-mail outreach soliciting employee feedback, US Airways Group is launching several programs to ensure that members of its newly merged workforce don’t feel like corporate orphans.

    Larry LeSueur, the airline’s vice president of culture integration, and the management team have set in motion several initiatives to help with the integration process. While he doesn’t rule out seeking an outside consultant down the line to help the meshing process along, he says that right now the concentration is on low-cost homegrown solutions.

    The first thing on the integration agenda was holding town hall meetings throughout the country for executives to meet with employees. In December, for example, CEO Doug Parker and LeSueur held meetings at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. with 550 employees of all ranks at Phila­delphia International Airport, then flew to Pittsburgh International Air­port that evening for yet another town hall meeting. The events, which are open to airline employees only, consist of a 20-minute speech by Parker and then a question-and-answer session that typically lasts about two hours. Parker also is conducting a webcast with all employees after quarterly results are in.

    The communication continued with an e-mail program designed to get workers more involved in designing the new "guiding principles" for the merged organization. He says he’ll be answering the e-mails himself, or directing them to the local managers if there is something that needs to be addressed right away. The plan is to take the data, find trends among the employee responses and eventually use what they learn in day-to-day operations.

    In an effort to make everyone at the company feel involved in the merger, and not just see the event as a press release or news story, LeSueur put together a "Day One" contest in which workers across the country were asked to decorate their work stations to signal the change. The winners got a revamp of their break rooms, which included new furniture and fresh paint. All participants received prizes such as a TV or other appliances for their break rooms.

    At Philadelphia International, for example, workers marked the union of the companies by decorating their ticket counter with wedding trappings, complete with cake and a bride and groom in full matrimonial regalia.

    In November, the company introduced an incentive program called Hat Trick, which gave employees the opportunity to earn $100 a month if US Airways ranked among the top three carriers in the country in on-time performance, baggage handling and addressing customer complaints.

    To help workers feel appreciated, especially during the holiday season, the company gave employees who worked on Thanksgiving and Christmas free meals. "I went to Doug and we talked about the meals," LeSueur says. "We were giving the meals to America West employees, and he decided to expand it throughout the company." The cost: about $250,000.

    Finally, one major issue that often angers employees, culture experts say, is when the history of one of the two firms begins to fade away after the merger is complete. That can include things like the loss of a name or logo. In a nod to the two companies involved in the merger, and to recognize the many other airlines that were acquired by US Airways over the years, Parker decided to create a so-called "Heritage" logo.

    While the planes will bear the name US Airways, they will also carry a logo that includes the symbols of America West, Allegheny Airlines, Pacific Southwest Airlines and Piedmont Airlines. Suha Arkan, managing director for US Airways in Philadelphia, saw the logo as a nice gesture, given his 20 years working for Pacific Southwest before US Airways bought it.

Workforce Management, January 16, 2006, p. 27 -- Subscribe Now!

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