Engaging with our people in an Airline

Summary: Created Jan 2013 last update 16 Jun 2014

  • An engagement index should measure the internal feeling that an employee has for the organisation that he works for and not simply a score about the external work environment.
  • Engage with your people individually and they will in turn engage with the organisation.
  • Questions still exist regarding how the organisation intend to increase the engagement index of Pilots.
  • Change what your employees Think about their managers and this will in turn change how they Feel about their management and this will ultimately change what they Do for the company.

Models used: Harvard Memo Template

Sources: Online articles; etsplc; Brilliantminds.co.uk ; kensmithcoaching.co.uk

I have recently begun a dialogue with our Group Head of Air Travel Christoph Debus. This has taken the form of me emoting about my feeling of being un-engaged or even de-engaged (if there is a difference) from my immediate management and above. It follows several letters and communications regarding our future as an airline and the What, Why and even “What will happen if we don’t do stuff” but very little about me as a line Pilot and the HOW we are going to do things differently. In addition “the company” is not happy with the “engagement figures” 39% compared to the national average of 64% what ever that means.

Now does this tell me more about my preferred way of receiving communication or the unthoughtful way that I am being communicated at? Or both? In addition why am I interested in any of this stuff? What do I get to prove and what’s in it for me? What is engaging me in this example of poor engagement?

I guess I care about TCX and my job and I wish to test out my knowledge of human interaction, personality types, metaprograms and the application of a few NLP presuppositions. It’s a chance to get involved in the relationships between management and Pilots which I assume is an area that has not received too much attention from an analysis point of view. In addition it’s a great opportunity to have a look at profiling Mr Debus and mixing in some Neuro Logical Levels.

The overall situation reminds me of the Harvard University format: Problem scenario – Questions raised – Suggested Solutions – Draw your own conclusions. So I will use this format as a template to see how it works out.


Warning Generalisations coming up! Pilots feel unengaged and do not trust management. They are generally cynical about the company and the motives of management. They believe that double standards are being applied to some staff and certainly by most managers especially around financial bonuses.

From what I know of the company they would like to see the engagement figures higher and for us all to pull together as one team in this transformation stage of the rebuilding of TCX Group and in particular the UK Airline. How then will the company do this? There is a difference here between the number of people completing the survey and the Engagement Index generated. See ETS section below.


Definition: or what specifically does TCX mean by Engagement? On a basic level does it mean the number of people that completed the ECHO survey or the results of the survey.

In an letter to the group Harriett says “….make this a better place to work…” and later on “Amongst the many questions each survey featured, there are 15 standardised engagement questions that will give us clear visibility about how you all feel about working for the Thomas Cook Group and how you think we’ve been performing as a business and an employer over the past year.”

From Ken Smith and the Listener: “The inquiry into what employees think about their place of work has metamorphosed into an assessment of the extent to which they want to stay and are willing to proclaim the merits of their organisation, and of their readiness to make additional, discretionary effort for it. In many ways this deeper, strategic enquiry into employees’ satisfaction with, and emotional attachment to, their organisation is to be applauded. ”

I came across this nice article on the subject which helped me understand some of the differences between employee satisfaction and employee engagement. So this article would suggest that:

Employee satisfaction is external to the employee ie more to do with his or her environment, colleagues and bosses (e.g., I have the materials I need to do my work right; My supervisor, or someone at work seems to care about me as a person; I have a best friend at work). Staff opinion poll could be another way of describing this type of measurement.

Employee engagement is far more to do with activation on the part of the employee, the willingness to expend his or her’s discretionary effort to help the employer and how he or she feels internally about the company and their part in it.


I checked out a little of what ETS plc says about its survey and found the following Think – Feel – Do model really interesting:

Think Feel Do

The ‘Think, Feel, Do’ framework that we use to create an engagement index recognises
that an employee’s perceptions of their organisation – for example their understanding
of individual contribution to the strategic direction, job fit, perceptions of the manager
(what they think) – will determine how they feel about working for the company.

Exactly what engaged employees feel will differ between organisations. For example;
pride, passion and a sense of belonging are frequently experienced by engaged
employees (what they feel). But many qualities of an engaged employee are unique to
an organisation and its business context. And what an employee feels will drive their
behaviour (what they do).

So it would apear that ETS do use a way of measuring the true meaning of engagement as the above article suggests so how are we to improve the index and therefor the response rate and presumably create higher productivity and performance?


The following video from Dianne Lowther is a really great NLP style look at the whole Staff Engagement conundrum. I have written up a transcript of her words here. She has also written an article about the Rules of Engagement.


Does Christoph actually want to improve our engagement index or is he happy with our productivity and performance as such?

Where in fact do pilots fit in the big scheme of the Echo Survey? Do pilots know why the scheme is so important. Do we need to be engaged?

How can we improve the pilot’s engagement with customers and fellow workers? CRM? Personal development?

How much does the current Echo survey cost? How can TCX spend half this and come up with a better solution? Who reads Echo surveys? What do they mean to me on the line?


Let’s assume that what the company are doing is not working. If you always do.

The ETS solution would suggest that we should alter and influence what the pilots Think. In due course this will affect what they FEEL and eventually what they DO as a result of these feelings. This is done by following up action plans and meetings and charts and stuff which is not working for me!

The Brilliant Minds solution is to Engage with the individual and their engagement with the organisation will follow. Ask each individual the following style questions:

  • What would it take to engage that person, what would it take to fulfil their values?
  • What’s going to make the work meaningful and enjoyable to them?
  • What’s going to make them proud to work for this organisation?

As of 28th Jan 2013 this is the required action from the latest communication regarding engagement. Your feedback also told us we need to focus on –

  • Communicating a clear and compelling plan and strategy for the UK Airline
  • Further focus on delivering greater customer focus
  • Ensuring people have the opportunity to discuss the issues that we are facing as a company with their line manager and input ideas on how to resolve
  • A much stronger focus on effective performance management with a particular focus on individual development and career growth

On the assumption that TCX will not go with the one on one solution then at least by communicating differently  with pilots we may see some change in thinking. See this post regarding Communicating with our people in an Airline.

01 Oct 2013 update

Comments in Every Voice propaganda letters:

This is an important step for the company – understanding, in detail, what you think, what you want and how we can work together to make our airline even stronger.  Your voice matters, so please make sure that you take time to complete this survey.

You also have my guarantee that we as a management team will openly share with you the results of the survey, explaining what actions we will take across our airline to address the issues you raise.  I am committed to ensuring that we take action based on your feedback.

It’s really important that we get feedback from as many of you as possible. Every voice counts and we will use this feedback to redefine and adjust our improvement measures for next year

Every voice really does count and we – as a management team – will use this feedback to redefine and adjust our improvement measures for next year. We will communicate the improvement measures to you and you will be able to monitor the progress.

…..it is vital that we receive your feedback.

It is really important that we receive the views from as many of you as possible on our airline and Thomas Cook so we can properly shape our future as we strive to become the best sun, beach and leisure focused airline.
As I said last week, as a management team we are committed to feeding back to you once we have the results of the survey, and we will share with you our action plans as we take on board your feedback.
Your feedback is critical and will help the organisation identify the actions that will drive the Transformation and business success at Thomas Cook.

Here’s an interesting open letter from the HR Focus Magazine which also sheds a little light on the subject.

Dear employee,

If you were to give answers to the following questions, what would you say?

·         How do you feel about working for your organisation?

·         How will you describe the way the organisation treats you as an employee?

·         What will make you leave the organisation?

·         What are the organisation’s values and what do they mean?

·         What specific behaviours are aligned to the organisation’s values?

·         What is rewarded in the organisation?

·         Will you be comfortable sharing your answers (or thoughts) with your boss or any senior person in your organisation?

If some of the answers are negative, (or you do not know the answers), and you cannot have an open discussion about your concerns with a senior person within the organisation, you are probably disengaged; and disengaged employees are not productive.

You probably work with an organisation that touts the fact that ‘employees are their greatest asset’. However on a daily basis, the behaviour you observe from those who should know better is totally inconsistent with this. For example:

·         You have a great idea on how certain ways of working or services could be improved, but the last time someone within the organisation brought up a bright idea, he was told it was not his job to come up with ideas. And yet ‘innovation’ is one of the company’s values or

·         Whilst the company says ‘customer satisfaction’ is important, you very often see your managers grumble anytime they have to attend customer requests; and they never return customer calls or

·         Your company values ‘respect’, yet employees are treated differently depending on how senior they are or

·         Anytime you try to be ‘proactive’, you are denigrated as being ‘all knowing’ or

·         The only people recognised and rewarded are those who achieve results through individual effort, yet ‘teamwork’ is supposed to be encouraged.

The list could go on and on, and I am sure you get the drift.

It is therefore not surprising that you have very little emotional connection with the work you do and the organisation you work for.

You think back and recap how you got recruited to the organisation and recollect the interview.  You remember that no questions were asked about how you fit into the organisational culture, or whether or not you were aligned to their values. The focus was solely on technical competence and previous experience.

You then remember your first week at work. There was no formal induction. You were literally on your own and had to find things out for yourself. No one shared the company’s mission, vision, goals, strategy and vision; yet you are expected to contribute to the success of the business. A lot of what you learnt was from informal interactions with peers in the organisation-some of it very contradictory and confusing. As a result, for a very long time you had no idea what the performance expectations were and how they will be measured. You also did not know what learning and development support existed and what career prospects there were. And yet your organisation says it believes in developing its people.

Very often you have to close from work late; not necessarily because there is a lot of work to do, but more because it is perceived that those who stay longer are the hard working ones. This you find very amusing because most of the time, those who stay on do virtually no work. Many are undertaking private courses and use this time to study, whilst others just ‘kill time’.

So here you are, musing over your current situation, wondering how come your once exciting career has become dull and why it takes so much effort to get out of bed, go to the office and work with passion to exceed expectations.

The answer is simple. It has nothing to do with your capabilities, and everything to do with the culture of the organisation you work for.  The way the organisation works, the relationship it has with its employees and customers, its values and environment has affected you and the way you work. Trying to make a difference is like swimming against the tide, and sooner than later you give up.

Dear employee, like many things in life, you have a choice. In this case, you either stay in your current organisation where ‘presentism’ is high (i.e. everyone turns up for work, closes late but achieves very little), become de-motivated and become an average performer; or simply find a new job.

By the way, the next time you are job hunting, spend as much time researching the company’s culture (behaviour, relationships, attitudes, values and environment) as you will spend researching the company’s product and profitability. Where possible, go beyond the company’s website. Read news items, reviews on products and services, customers’ perceptions and opinions etc. The bottom line is that, you are unlikely to be successful working in an organisation whose values do not align with yours, and sooner or later you will be disengaged.

I strongly urge you to share this with your HR Manager, and ask him or her whether he or she is confident that all the high performing employees do not feel the same way you do.

I wish you well.

Sigismund Dzeble – Head of HR – PZ Cussons


Update June 2014

Here is a link to the latest action plan as a result of the Every Voice survey.