I had the privilege of spending several years on the management team for Virgin Australia’s “Unify” airline systems and business change program. Unify had 50+ leaders and 500+ team members across all partners. It had highly ambitious goals, massive workloads, hugely accelerated timeframes. How did this team succeed?
Unify-ers performed for over a year under stress; to an extraordinary level of speed, detail and quality. Unify’s ambitious task was to reengineer a $4B enterprise, fundamentally retrain 4,000 people, update 50+ systems, and finish in only around 18 months with a big bang change whilst keeping the airline flying. Against this backdrop I often received amazed compliments from outsiders, or new recruits, on the harmony, respect and camaraderie of everyone involved.
How did everyone do it? I have some theories…
- Shared Vision. All involved knew this initiative was tasked with ambitious goals, some uncertainty to achieve these, but they shared the vision of changing the enterprise and got frequent opportunities to connect with other areas and senior management.
- Honest, open, two way communication. Weekly leaders meetings were long (granted): but they involved all 50 leaders, and debate and sometimes robust discussion from all involved was encouraged. The dashboard & testing results shared were the same ones the CFO & CEO saw. Some objections / observations were at times hard for myself or even other managers to take on board: but the openness was always (ultimately) appreciated and the input always resulted in better outcomes.
- Sharing of accountability and decision making. It took a while for the leadership to all work out our parts, but we held workshops, listened, and respected each other. We had amazing people on team, great diversity, a lot to learn from!
- Management must walk the walk. Management weren’t perfect, but all through the managers and leaders we knew success would be a shared venture, and that only by listening and focussing on working respectfully could we succeed. All our management and leaders worked incredibly hard alongside their teams. It was those team members who made Unify succeed – it was the managers & leaders responsibility to provide resources, support, and do our best to have a respectful workplace. We knew to take these responsibilities seriously.
- Celebrate the wins, and share the job of overcoming any losses. Many things didn’t go our way, but persistence and solidarity got us through to success. We had great times together and got to genuinely enjoy each others company. We tried to find interactivity and fun somewhere in our monthly all hands meetings, we had quite a few parties, and the most successful groups found lots of time to share celebrations whenever they could.
Footnote: I know many members of Unify are connected by LinkedIn. You people are all AMAZING! I hope you share your memories and views and I’d love to hear your theories on what made it all work.