Why sensitive Change Management can’t be ignored – The London Cabs strike

Yesterday (11/06/14) circa 4000 black cab taxi drivers brought part of central London to a standstill in protest at rival service Uber – a mobile phone app, which originated in the US.

The drivers are angry about what they regard as a lack of regulation of the use of the app which allows other taxis (i.e. their competitor private mini cab drivers) to work out the cost of journeys. They say it is the same as using a taxi meter, which only black cabs are legally entitled to use. A senior black cab representative in the early evening London news further explained that the strike was not directed at Uber for introducing a threat of competition with their app but against the Transport for London (TfL) organisation for allowing Uber to operate in London in-spite of their alleged illegal status. He further challenged the right of the Uber app to be used in the UK when the Company’s HQ is based outside of the UK.

The matter is now in the courts and will no doubt run its usual lengthy course. However in the fast moving world of social media and who are the real winners and losers of the strike and what does this tell us about change management? These are a few key facts to note:

  1. Uber reported that its registration take up rate following the publicity of the strike has increased by 850%
  2. Uber’s very eloquent and approachable General Manager went on a charm offensive on the television networks and very convincingly argued the case for Uber in terms of their legal status, their London business registration, the support and sponsorship of the TFL and the safety case of the app for (a) mini cab drivers – given that it promotes digital fare payment thereby negating the threats of assault and robbery from unscrupulous passengers; and (b) Passengers – as all registered Uber mini cab drivers have to undergo stringent checks from both the TFL and Uber before they can register.
  3. Not mentioned in any of the news items is the financial advantage, from the passenger viewpoint, in that the Uber app negates the need of arbitrary fare charging on the part of the private mini cab drivers .

The fact that a strike was called, in spite of the pending court action and thousands of pounds lost by individuals and Companies alike, demonstrates what happens when change management is not properly or appropriately implemented to facilitate the introduction of change (in this case a new piece of technology) which many perceive as personally threatening (e.g. to the black cab status as the official London cabs).

Sensitive Change management recognises that one of the biggest barriers to change is people; and that their reaction to the introduction of change has to go through the “Change Curve” and that they need to be supported appropriately to work through this change management tool to minimise the resistance to change so as to adapt to the change as quickly as possible.

The Change Curve

Change Management Case Study – Key lessons from the Change curve and the Black Cab drivers

  1. The black cab drivers display the characteristics of individuals in the Frustration/ Anger stage. Having previously gone through the Shock and Denial stages, they are now at the point where they are seeking a scapegoat, in the shape of TfL for the digital change that is the Uber app. The fact that all walks of life and professions including theirs have had to embrace digital changes in the shape of other apps (e.g. google maps) as the new way of life is neither here nor there. This change is personal.
  2. Post the strike, the Frustration / Anger will give way to the lowest point on the change curve – Depression – where we can except to see the legendary black cab customer service (arguably one of the most important links with London customers/ tourists) to plummet as the realisation dawns on them that Uber is looks likely to stay. The judgement on the court case may indeed be the catalyst for this.
  3. Londoners and TfL should brace themselves for the Depression stage and indeed TfL can implement bespoke change management practices to manage this stage as effectively and as quickly as possible so as enable a swift transition to the positive Acceptance/ Experiment, Decision and Integration stages where black cabbies start embracing the widespread use of app and identifying the opportunities that these can even bring to them.

One cannot help but wonder if smarter deployment of a bespoke change management process and change management tools from the onset, would not have cushioned the impact of the Frustration/ Anger stage and negated the waste of money and disruptions caused by the black cab strike.


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