Mumbai: Air India is trying to use the euphoria generated by the national cricket team’s World Cup victory to inspire its employees into turning around the ailing carrier and becoming world beaters themselves. It helps that the airline employs four of the front line members of the cricket team, starting with captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
“We have to behave and play like a team—team Air India,” chairman and managing director Arvind Jadhav wrote in one of several recent motivational letters to employees.
Jadhav has been struggling for the past two years to drag the carrier, which has accumulated losses of Rs 13,300 crore, out of the trough it’s in. He exhorted employees to fight for “own World Cup—ensuring Air India’s profitability”.
“Our tournament has also begun. With the finalization of our turnaround plan, financial restructuring plan and HR (human resources) committee, we are now at the centre stage, where everyone is watching our performance,” Jadhav wrote. “We all know the legacy which burdens us, but we have no alternative other than to emerge with flying colours.”
Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Suresh Raina are the other three Air India employees in the cricket team.
Since March, Jadhav has shot off eight letters to each of Air India’s 31,000 employees.
“Our every action needs to delight our customers, our passengers, our patrons. Why should a single seat go vacant? Why should (the) cargo belly be half-full? Why should our esteemed patrons look around confused, seeking assistance? In short, why can’t we do better than projections made and targets given in the turnaround plan?” Jadhav wrote.
Employees have been asked to come up with proposals that ensure 10-15% improvement in revenue or cost savings of a similar magnitude. If the four-member turnaround committee okays such proposals and they get implemented, incentives have been promised.
Such plans will also be owned by the individuals who come up with the idea and they will report directly to the turnaround committee.
In the latest letter on 12 April, Jadhav said he got overwhelming response from employees, adding “and I am happy to share that over 120 full savings and earning project ideas have already been received since 6 April 2011”.
After watching the India-Pakistan semifinal at Mohali, Jadhav wrote on 31 March: “One thought crossed my mind and that is—if four Air Indians can propel India into the World Cup final, why can’t 40,000 Air Indians turn around the company?”
Apart from the 31,000 employees on the payroll, the carrier also outsources work to others.
Jadhav has also dispelled fears of job cuts while assuring Air India will incentivize employees to acquire new skills.
“There will be no retrenchment. The only expectation from our employees would be to find an area where they can excel and give 100%. The company would facilitate acquisition of new skills for redeployment, if necessary,” he wrote.
Air India has created a turnaround committee to monitor the change management.
Union civil aviation minister Vayalar Ravi said every single member of Air India is contributing to the efforts of the top management, although he wasn’t as familiar with the sport in question as Jadhav. “I am not a cricket man, I cannot draw a parallel with cricket,” Ravi said.
“These letters are positive reinforcement from the top management for their employees as there will be negativity and resistance to change,” said Sandeep K. Krishnan, vice-president (human resources and corporate development) at consultancy Acropetal Technologies Ltd. “This is a positive communication to encourage the workforce, which is largely unionized and pretty safe compared to private sector labour.”
Krishnan is a fellow of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and was previously employed with IBM India, Ernst and Young India and RPG Group, handling performance management.
“These inspirational letters (by Jadhav) are a part of the change management process at Air India,” Krishnan said.
At the same time, “positive talk alone will not work for Air India. This has to backed by solid changes in the structure, considering the legacy of Air India,” he added. There has to be “performance management, training and benchmarking of employees’ performance vis-à-vis international private carriers”.
Before its merger with Indian Airlines, the losses reported by the two state-owned carriers were Rs 447.93 crore and Rs 240.93 crore, respectively, aviation minister Ravi told Parliament on 10 March. The company has also taken on Rs 40,000 crore as debt through short-term and long-term loans.
Air India aims to restructure a large part of its working capital loan—which currently has a short repayment period and carries an 11-13% interest rate—into a 10-year facility at a lower rate of 9-10%.
The cash-strapped airline expects to turn profitable by 2014 with the help of its third financial restructuring plan in as many years. It’s been prepared by investment banker SBI Capital Markets Ltd and vetted by consulting firm Deloitte Consulting India Pvt. Ltd.