What would SAS do, if they were an UNBOSS company? I have been asked that question numerous times while SAS has been struggling to survive. Let’s work on it together. Here is my first input:
There are three basic elements in UNBOSS: 1) Purpose before profit. 2) Engage everyone who shares the purpose. 3) Forget conventional hierarchical management and create new mechanisms.
1. Purpose befor profit. Of course SAS must make money; a lot of money indeed to be able to invest in new planes, new destinations and new services. But imagine if SAS rephrased its purpose like this: To help Scandinavians travel abroad fast, cheaply, comfortably and sustainably? Or even shorter: To help globalize Scandinavia.
Imagine SAS actually adopted that purpose and then focused everything they do on exactly that: To help globalize Scandinavia.
2. Engage everyone who is passionate about the purpose: Then SAS would immediately get a lot of new friends.
Who is passionate about improving SAS’ bottom line? Shareholder and not a lot of others.
Who is passionate about globalizing Scandinavia? A lot of people: Business, parliaments, local government and a lot of ordinary people. Actually, who wouldn’t be passionate? Without good air connections there will be no new growth companies, no new high-value jobs, no international conventions and no real development.
SAS could gain a lot of new friends with a stronger purpose. In UNBOSS we call all those friends the unlimited organization. In such a organization, conventional hierarchical and power-based management will never work. We need something else:
Mechanisms instead of hierarchy and power. Think of the so-called final negotiations last week between unions and management. This was a prototype of the industrial, power-based and hierarchical mindset: Accept these terms or the company will go bankrupt!
An UNBOSS SAS would do something quite different: Drop decades of tradition to position employees and employer as opposites and turn the conflict into a common effort.
SAS market cap has never been lower; less than USD 400 Million. Shareholders have already lost almost alltheir money. Why not offer all staff the opportunity to by, say 20%, of the shares at a symbolic price, say 20 cents per share with the option of buying another 20% if the company performs really well. Of course this offer is only valid if employees accept salaries and working conditions that match the market. That would be a revolution. An airline where every single employee was turned into an associate or a partner. An airline where everyone pulled in the same direction.
Employee ownership is just one example on a mechanism which changes the rules of the game such that everybody gets a shared interest in succeeding. No power, just an opportunity which you can’t resist.
Employee ownership helps, but SAS needs more: It needs a management team that involves staff to the maximum extent in shaping the future SAS. There are hundreds of ways to improve and develop SAS and employees know what works. The necessary mechanisms can be found in UNBOSS.
SAS needs more than employee engagement: A genuine dialogue with passengers, business, government, agents, suppliers and others who care for Scandinavias future in a globalized world. What can SAS do and what can we do for SAS? Skype’s customers sell Skype to their friends who have not yet installed the software. And they even help their friends install the thing. That is free customer service! Sailboats help the navy patrol Danish waters in order to spot pollution. Voluntarily. Concerned parents patrol the streets at night to reduce crime. No salary. In all three cases someone has created a mechanism for people to contribute to the common good. That is UNBOSS.
Therefore SAS must engage customers and partners. Not with the purpose of improving SAS’ bottom line but indeed to help globalize Scandinavia. The UNBOSS SAS management must inspire and engage by creating the mechanisms that make it possible. No hierarchy and no new structures needed.
A well-functioning SAS is worth 5 Billion USD or more. 40% of that is 2 Billion USD. For each of SAS’ 10.000 employees this is 200.000 USD. Not bad! The old shareholders will be happy too. Their 400 Million USD has grown to 3 Billion. Seen before? Yes indeed. Remember hearing aid manufacturer Oticon 1990-1998.
The game is not lost. SAS has good management and a board with all the necessary qualifications. Employees have shown that they are responsible by accepting dramatic cuts in salaries and longer working hours. But the mindset needs change, both at employees and management.
It can be done. Give us your suggestions and thoughts. Write a comment!