Marcia Bradley, 45, marketing manager, culture-change projects, British Airways.
What's your problem?
"We're quality fanatics. There's a 'BA way,' and there's a wrong way. But sometimes we go outside the company for ideas. How do I turn outsiders into insiders without compromising their ideas? How do I convince insiders to give outsiders a chance?"
Tell me about it
"I'm part of a major initiative to rethink the experience of being at an airport. I work with lots of vendors and consultants. But we have such a strong way of doing things at BA that there's a tendency to keep outsiders at arm's length. We risk creating great proposals that collect dust — or rolling out initiatives that don't meet expectations. I need to show my BA colleagues and my outside colleagues what they can learn from each other."
What's your solution?
"Total immersion. Before we even think about a proposal, we might spend three months introducing our partners to BA, and vice versa. We make sure that the consultants experience our product. We arrange for them to fly BA to meetings — both in Club Class (first class) and in World Traveller (economy class). We ask for their impressions: How comfortable were the seats? How long did you wait at the counter? We open a dialogue about the company.
"Partners also meet key BA players — in structured get-to-know-you gatherings as well as for brainstorming. We even ask these partners to spend time with people whom they won't be working with. They visit departments; they drop in on meetings.
"Finally, they get a formal education in BA's values and in our brand integrity. It's part history lesson, part rules-of-the-road orientation. We cover everything from our principles of customer service to the choice of colors on our aircraft.
"The payoff is huge. When it's time to sign off on budgets or to approve designs, we do it faster and more confidently."
Cathy Olofson (email@example.com) is a writer and editor in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Contact Marcia Bradley by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
A version of this article appeared in the Feb/March 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine.