In the early 1980’s, plans were well underway within the Boeing “family” to build the Boeing 777. When they began to consider building the largest and most complex plane ever designed, Boeing developed a new set of values, which led to a specific set of long-range goals. The same were cascaded into a large set of related projects and individual tasks. The total project involved a development budget of US$ 6 billion, more than 3 million parts and over 10 000 people working on it to accomplish its goals. Boeing’s vision was to design and build a superior aircraft for profit in an environment of “no secrets” and “no rivalry” within Boeing and in its relationship with customers and contractors, clarified in the following statements:
- Use a new style of management unheard of in the industry: working together while building trust, honesty and integrity.
- In the past, people were afraid to state a problem because of the practice of killing the messenger. We will instead celebrate our problems and get them out into the open so we can work on them.
- We must come with no limitations in our mind. We must have a shared thought, vision, appreciation and understanding of what we are going to accomplish together.
Boeing’s long-range goals for this airplane were stated as follows:
- Design, develop and produce a plane safer and more reliable than any other plane in aviation history that is state-of-the-art and service-ready on delivery, to be called the 777.
- Design, develop and produce a programme to empower a massive team of people to implement the “working together” philosophy while creating the 777.
The net results of this 777 project were impressive – it came in under budget and was delivered before its due date. Released in 1996 to clients and now for the past 18 years, the plane has lived up to all safety and performance ideals.
Apart from the technical excellence and ingenuity that went into the creation of this airplane, it is significant that an equal part of the strategy was an empowerment one. Promoting engagement with employees, clients and contractors (hardly ever done) translated into greater trust in relationships, which again translated into more creative problem-solving and ownership. Having a transparent and extensive communication process also promoted networking, where every individual’s role was valued.
Employee engagement is a pre-requisite to empowerment. A “working together” philosophy implies communication across levels and interdepartmentally to be realised – manager to supervisor, supervisor to staff member, team to other teams, etc. To be really effective, it also implies upward communication and engagement, where leaders are approachable and open to new ideas, sharing of problems and the voicing of concerns. It’s the development of the attitude of servanthood across the organisation, with high levels of commitment to each other and to the project or company goals.
As it was with Boeing, empowerment must be central to the company strategy, not just an add-on in terms of technique. The golden thread to achieving this empowerment is, amongst other things, a robust engagement environment where people (employees, clients and contractors) are truly valued and appreciated.