How United Airlines’ Metrics Helped Form A Collaborative Employee Culture

In this interview, Brendan Neuman, Human Capital Metrics Analyst at United Airlines, shares how United Airlines redefined itself as a workforce, and ultimately as an airline, after its merger with Continental Airlines. The corporation was faced with blending two different subsidiaries into a balanced company with a healthy culture and a collaborative work environment.

hrh media: How has the use of human resources metrics changed or shaped United Airlines hiring process?

We relied on metrics extensively throughout the process of merging United and Continental Airlines. We paid especially close attention to ensure that the newly merged company looked like its two subsidiaries in terms of gender and ethnicity demographics. We developed weekly dashboards to provide status updates for each of our operating and corporate divisions.

hrh media: In an industry that has weathered a fair share of setbacks in recent years, would you say United has prospered thanks to its employee-centric culture? If so, how has this culture been achieved and maintained?

We have invested significant effort in forming the culture of the new company. This has been accomplished through a variety of engagement and culture surveys conducted throughout the business. I think our focus on getting the culture right and emphasizing a safe and collaborative work environment will provide us with a distinct competitive advantage in the marketplace.

We track the evolving culture with a measurement model that involves looking not only at how favorably people evaluate tenets of the culture, but how consistently groups of individuals share their perceptions of the culture. We plan to continue this approach of measuring the strength and consistency of perceptions over time.

hrh media: Often when employee feedback is aggregated into groups, the measurement can become skewed. How does United Airlines wade through the data to determine the perception of any one employee toward the company or their job?

We are most interested in exploring how groups of individuals perceive the company or their jobs. We have tested a variety of group agreement statistics which allow us to understand how representative a group mean is for the majority of its members. In general, if we determine that members of one group responded very differently from each other, we have less confidence in the average of their responses.

hrh media: Would you mind briefly explaining United’s group agreement indices and how it has been applied throughout the organization?

We have done comparative analyses using a few of the most common indices for group agreement including “rwg” and the standard deviation. What we have settled on, and what I will be presenting at the Summit is a statistic called “awg”. This statistic allows us to compare the variance observed within a group relative to the maximum possible variance, given the group size and group mean.

What that means from a practical perspective is that we can provide our internal customers and HR partners with some context to the data we’re reporting. Prior to using this approach, our customers often wondered if the data were skewed by the effect of one or two extreme scores. Now we can objectively tell them if that is the case.

hrh media: Looking forward, how do you feel the use of human resources metrics will impact your staffing processes as well as those implemented industry wide?

We are currently designing measurement solutions to gather feedback on all individuals who apply to work for United. We are interested not only in the efficacy of our recruiting and selection processes, but also want to develop a benchmark for United’s brand as both an employer and an airline.

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