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Why should anyone want to stay employed by you? For most old style managers the answer used to be fairly blunt: “Because you need a job and we pay you!” Slightly more sophisticated responses include: “Because we pay you really well and better than most,” or “this is a great place to work and we have attractive benefits.”

Money and benefits certainly have their place. One high level risk assessment manager recently appointed to a major bank was delighted not just with the  expected high level remuneration, but the quality of the child care facilities on offer. She could hardly wait to use the crèche run by the company for its child burdened employees.

Despite the adverse economic climate for many companies, the opening question above still has relevance. If you are working in BA for example and the company will now only pay you what it says is a much reduced going rate for the job then all things being equal you will probably aim to give BA a wide berth.

For BA watchers that seems to be a far bigger issue facing the company than a temporary industrial relations period of turmoil. Longer-term like the Royal Mail, BA, is surely going to suffer from its manifestly outdated macho style management.  

Indeed one wonders if BA has a future at all given the way it conducts its staff relations. “Look after your staff and they will look after the customers” seems to be a fact of life that entirely escapes the company and it could be years before customers feel comfortable with the care they receive from previously bullied, chivvied and dragooned staff.

Of course in the case of BA, survival is in doubt anyway given its cost structure compared to its more voracious competitors. But this is a result of years of complacency and like Sainsbury’s a few years back, a misguided belief that “we are the best.” In fact, it has been a long time since BA was the best, let alone everyone’s “favourite airline.”

BA now faces a problem of how to retain its most talented staff, many of whom will be thinking of leaving as soon as they can because who wants to work for a company that seems to cherish a hard-line approach to staff negotiations?  The climate or culture of the place is likely to remain damaged for too long.

When a company is enjoying a boom in customers the challenge is rather different.  The whole atmosphere tends to be more enjoyable and positive. The largest predictor of whether someone will stay with a company is their satisfaction with their immediate boss. The latter in BA are likely to be under continuous pressure to keep the place afloat and may feel they have little to offer their staff in terms of advancement or compensation.

So if you are a manager in BA in the present situation how can you answer the question: “Why should I stay employed by you?” Clearly the reply has to be drawn from the best practice of talent management, the kind of behaviour that helps unlocks people’s potential.

“There is a praise deficit in almost all companies” says Professor Conger a leading professor of Leadership studies,” and his views are widely echoed elsewhere. It seems strange that one of the simplest of actions to win people’s commitment is so seldom used with any consistency. After all, saying “well done” hardly costs loads of money and nor is it an automatic excuse for a demand for higher pay.

Another part of the answer is managing the likely high levels of anxiety and frustration. This applies both to the star performers and many others too.

Not just star performers will surely be re-thinking their future with the BA. Whole swathes of staff that ultimately the airline needs for its survival will be questioning if BA is the right place to be over the next few years.

Managing anxiety demands a reasonable modicum of emotional intelligence, an empathy for those you are trying to help and a willingness to really listen to what people think. There must at least be some doubts about the strengths of these leadership characteristics within BA.

For reasons that will remain obscure to outsiders, BA has failed to bring its people into a real partnership, one that involves excellent communication. “The more you share information the more buy in you have” argues Professor Conger.

This represents a serious cultural challenge for the company. You cannot on the one hand declare that survival depends on downgrading pay and conditions while also expecting people to believe that you care for them and therefore by implication care for the customers.

See also:  Retaining star Performers in Trying Timers, by Amy Carllo Harvard Business Review on line December 18 2009