Going from enterprise-wide breakdowns to breakthrough performance is like taking a base metal and transmuting it into gold.

One airline company emerging from bankruptcy and facing unsustainably low customer ratings and employee morale created this alchemy.

This final blog of the series highlights what this airline company did to turn such systemic breakdowns into breakthrough performance.

Breakdowns not problems

In our last two blogs, we laid the foundation for generating breakthroughs by distinguishing a problem from a breakdown.

  • problem orientation exists in a context that something or someone is wrong.
  • With breakdown orientation the context is the commitment.
  • Action, from a breakthrough orientation, is focused and consistent with the commitment.

What the airline did

Senior leadership first began by making a courageous and extensive examination of the specific breakdowns.  And they found them in almost every aspect of the airline’s business—from lost bags, to on-time performance, to broken business systems.

Cumulatively these breakdowns were reflected in low customer satisfaction ratings of 41%.

As they got to work it became clear that just driving the customer metric without fundamental shifts in how the business operated would not provide a foundation for sustainable success let alone Breakthrough Performance.

 Actions taken toward fundamental shifts:

  •  In each area, senior management and staff, working side by side, identified 400 systemic breakdowns, head-on, as breakdowns.
  • They set out to discover what specifically was happening that interrupted their commitment to serve their customers, rather than as “something that was wrong.”
  • They came up with a solution for each breakdown that was focused on serving the customer.

The results: breakthrough performance within eight months:

  •  Customer loyalty rose by almost 50%—producing an estimated $300 million in revenue.
  • Employees in every division resolved more than 400 chronically broken business systems—saving an estimated $175 million in costs.
  • On-time performance increased by 12%.
  • On the morale front: employees reported significantly greater levels of partnership and trust, especially with senior management, who worked alongside them in the transformational process.

What was their overall approach?

  •  CEO and senior leadership aligned on and communicated broadly a new vision and commitment to a future of having satisfied customers.
  • They worked to first transmute their own thinking from an old problem orientation (something wrong), to a breakdown orientation (plans and actions from a commitment to their customers).
  • They created alignment and inspired a critical mass of employees to take action.

As they worked in this new way, energy and vitality emerged to deal with the situation—the old “base metal” of problems began to melt.

Within eight months this company demonstrated that it is possible, with committed work, to transmute the “base metals” of enterprise-wide breakdowns into breakthrough performance.

What breakdowns do you have that you could commit to transmuting to breakthroughs?

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