discipline

Airport People Power: Diversity

People top view

People top view

This is part three of a series where I explore concepts associated with people management, inspired by Greg Principato's post on the key concern of airport executives: people. Part one is on discipline and part two on development.

So far, we’ve discussed people management techniques that apply to your current workforce. This article relates more to building or replenishing your team in a way that should see its output increase. It is also a relatively controversial concept.

The reasons why workforce diversity is still a “special interest” activity rather than part of our “day to day” varies. It is likely to be a combination of poorly implemented corporate policy, fearful entrenched management and, even cultural prejudice (be it racism, sexism, agism, etc.). It might also be because diversity interventions can conflict with a person’s morals and values.

To help us avoid some of these problems, we’re are going to look at two limited premises - the benefits of diversity and unconscious biases - and one technique leaders can use to embrace and promote diversity. And unless otherwise stated, this article considers diversity across multiple domains including gender, disability, ethnicity, etc.

Diversity is Better Business

There appears to be at least two different types of arguments that diversity is not only good business but better business. The first category puts forward that diverse teams perform better than non-diverse teams. The second category argues that with society becoming more diverse generally, businesses need to embrace diversity in order to maintain their workforce.

In the first case, research abounds with comparisons between businesses said to be more diverse and those considered less with results said to show that the first group outperforms the second. The diversity being examined includes numbers of women on the board, gender in the general workforce (.docx file), and ethnic diversity in the general workforce.

Since the numbers all vary, readers are encouraged to explore these and other links to satisfy themselves on whether performance and diversity correlate.

On the second point, demographics of western society typically show that the representation “traditional” white, male workforce is shrinking relative to other sections of society. In non-western societies, change is also occurring due to globalisation and an increasingly mobile society.

In order to attract and retain this “new” workforce, business has to embrace diversity (often referred to as diversity’s twin, inclusion). In a competitive job market, those companies and those teams that work to foster an inclusive environment, will get their pick of the talent. Why would you want to shut out a growing segment of the labour pool?

Barriers to Better Business

And yet people, leaders and team members, still put up barriers to diversity. The reasons may vary with fear, apathy and ignorant bliss as examples but this author believes that they are always rooted in some internal bias.

These biases may be deep-rooted prejudices or they may be rather superficial rules of thumb based on experience or the cultural context in which one has grown-up. Sometimes, they might be rather explicit and conscious or they can be quite unconscious. It could be argued that all biases have an unconscious root*.

It’s Not Your Fault

Unconscious biases are a product of our experiences. As we have travelled through life, we have learnt things, who to trust, what works well, where danger lurks, and we have constructed mental models of the world to guide us in future decisions. Interestingly, it is just as much about what we don’t experience that can bring our mental models undone when the world changes around us.

Take for example the Australian business leader that was “humiliated” in front of a large audience when a strong diversity trainer called him on stage with a Torres Strait Islander woman. In turn, he was shown that the woman on stage struggled in life due to personal characteristics he didn’t share and that he had never even thought about them, either positively or negatively.

This often manifests in an attitude that there isn’t a problem in need of fixing and even minorities are not immune. At a Women in Airports Breakfast held a couple of years ago, the panelists, three very successful airport leaders, were asked about pay disparity between men and women. In response, all three stated that they had never had a problem with their own remuneration and, in the aggregate, dismissed the questioner's concerns. Those familiar with this issue will be able to point to research that shows that "women, on average, earn less than men in virtually every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data for both men and women to calculate an earnings ratio".

The Challenge is to Challenge

So, if we accept that diversity is essential to future success and that we may be operating on unconscious biases, what can we do about it?

The answer is to challenge our decisions regarding our team. Obviously, this relates to selection decisions but it also includes the requirements we set for positions, the feedback we give our current team and the individuals we identify for development opportunities.

At first, it is worthwhile to just challenge your own decisions and choices. Ask yourself, why do I prefer Dave over Ramona? The answer might not even be that you have always had a man in that role. It could be that your childhood friend was named Dave or that your first ex-girlfriend was named Ramona**. Once you have identified any biases, you should be able to look past them.

In organisations actively promoting diversity, they may have implemented procedures designed to challenge potentially biased decisions. In some HR departments, they have been instructed to challenge essential requirements put forward by hiring managers. They are asking questions like why is a degree from particular colleges required and why do they require past experience with certain companies? And in other cases, job advertisements must pass an additional stage gate where an independent manager must review the content for potentially biased language.

In all these cases, the result of the challenge may be that nothing changes. Dave might be the best candidate for the position and that job might require a Stanford education with experience at a management consulting company. The point is that these decisions were challenged and, over time, a more inclusive bias will become the norm.

From Decisions to Concepts

The natural progression from challenging decisions is to begin to examine the concepts behind these decisions. For example, if we go back to Dave and Ramona and our essential requirements for their job, through the process of challenging these decisions, we might end up challenging the concept of “best candidate for the position”.

Let's say that Dave is better at the job. You can pick the measure by which this assessment is made, past performance, advanced qualifications, original research that has progressed humankind’s understanding of the field, but the assumption is that he is better. If selected, Dave will become a part of your team and a social dynamic now comes into play. How will Dave contribute to the team environment as compared to Ramona? Are we even considering this as part of the selection process?

In the graph below, we are assuming that Dave is “better” at doing the job and that Ramona is “better” in terms of contributing to the team. What constitutes “better” now depends on the role and the dynamics of the existing and even future team. This picture is not a rule for assessing men versus women, experience versus new ideas, or Anglo-Celtic versus Latin heritage, it’s just a hypothetical example.

Airport People Power: Diversity Graph

Airport People Power: Diversity Graph

The graph offers three ways of comparing the two of them and coming to a decision of which to select for the role in your team. The left hand version could be described as the “best person for the job” approach and, interestingly, could be considered the most anti-discriminatory. It doesn’t consider gender, age or ethnicity at all. The middle graph considers the potential impact of diversity on the team and considers it in tandem with the traditional approach. Maybe Ramona becomes the “better” choice and maybe Dave is still your preferred candidate. On the right hand side, the technical aspects are reduced to the minimum requirements, a simple tick of the “can they do the job” box with the diversity score added to the base. Here Ramona is the clear choice because of what she may add to the team.

Which approach to take is always the choice of the hiring manager but at least now they might be challenging their approach within the context of what they want to achieve. If diversity is important to them they’ll tend to the middle or right. If performance is important to them, where might they go?

If there is one thing that is true for this field of business, is that discussion is necessary. If we are to do diversity “right”, we need to bring in a range of points of view. To that end, we welcome your comments and feedback below.

* Some very introspective or mindful people may have explored all their own feelings to establish their biases but I would consider these people relatively rare.

** After writing this, I became completely aware of how biased towards a male reader this article is. Perhaps this is because this is the audience that needs to read this, or that I perceive that female leaders are under represented in the airport sector generally or that I am a closet misogynist - I hope its not the latter.

Photo: Header by 

Timon Studler

/Unsplash, graph by author

Airport People Power: Development

This is part two of a series where I explore concepts associated with people management, inspired by Greg Principato's post on the key concern of airport executives: people. The first article in the series looked at discipline.

There seem to be a million internet memes on developing your staff with the “what if we don’t and they stay” posting on LinkedIn on a seemingly four-week cycle. So, it seems almost needless to discuss why we need to invest in our teams but we will, briefly, and then will move into some ideas on development that won’t break the bank.

Faster, Better, Quicker

Continuous improvement is a hallmark of modern business and it doesn’t just relate to safety. Stock holders in publicly-listed airports expect growth & returns, customers expect increased service & amenity and executives want to deliver on these expectations. One of the biggest problems for airports, is that the infrastructure to deliver on some of these expectations takes time to build. In the meantime, we often expect our people to do more with what they have.

But this is only the start of the story. You can’t just dump these expectations on people without creating an environment that encourages and supports the growth in the people we need to support the growth in the business.

Retention

A second big argument for developing your people harks back that well-trodden meme I mentioned earlier. The third point in that discussion, for me, would be, “if we don’t invest, they (the good ones at least) will leave”. Part of what people think of as being talented, is having the drive to learn, grow, progress. If our people aren’t getting this from their job, they will look for it elsewhere.

Development as an incentive is a great retention strategy. This author has definitely stayed on with a company offering a development opportunity where alternate career paths were available. It must be remembered, however, that it’s not a guarantee. Some people will leave after having developed a new skill at your expense. The goal is to, with respect to your overall program, think in the aggregate rather than the specific.

Personal Satisfaction

Another great reason for taking a strong stance on development is that it can be greatly rewarding from a purely personal point of view. In spite of all the worry associated with people leaving after you have invested time and money in them, seeing a team member that you have supported and developed leave to take a new opportunity; one that they wouldn’t have dreamed was a possibility before, is exciting and extremely satisfying.


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The Three Es

In a lot of internet and company literature, development activities are often broken down into experience, exposure and education. They even have a rule regarding how much of each but we’ll get to that in a moment.

  • Experience can be described as learning by doing. At its most basic level, this is on-the-job training of new team members to bring them up to the minimum standard. Moving beyond this, experience involves assigning team members work beyond or outside their current duties.
  • Exposure is similar to experience in that it is often a workplace setting but it doesn’t involve any actual doing. It often includes work shadowing or even mentoring. It can also include attending a networking event or a conference.
  • Education is the more traditional view of development typically involving off-site training in either short or longer term, formal settings.

Now the rule often cited in relation to the three Es is 70:20:10 - as a breakdown of the ratio between the three activities. Some sources seem to cite this rule as descriptive rather than prescriptive but it's not a bad guide to use in development planning.

So which ratio relates to which activity? Experience should represent 70% of the development plan, exposure should make-up 20% and education is the other 10%. As the bulk of development should relate to experience, let’s look at a great approach to using it in the development of a team member.

Stretch

Work hardening is a metallurgical process by which a material is strengthened by incrementally straining and releasing a piece of it. Using stretch in development is a similar concept but more mental than physical, of course. A stretch project is a task or project that is thought to sit beyond the team member’s current job level.

Assigning a team member a stretch project works on a couple of levels:

  • Firstly, it challenges the team member and fights against stagnation and boredom.
  • It can (should) lead to a sense of achievement, pride and increased job satisfaction.
  • It also, perhaps selfishly, gets an important project done.

This may seem like exploitation and, if not initiated from a position of collaboration, it could be. It is, therefore very important that the development discussion involves whether the team member is looking for a stretch assignment, in what areas they want to develop and what is their current capacity to take the project on. A stretch project should always be a collaborative decision and for a manager, extra care should be taken to avoid implied expectations - i.e. if you don’t take this project, you won’t be considered for other development opportunities.

Supporting a Growth Mindset

It takes a supportive corporate culture for stretch to work. Much like the implied expectations mentioned above, a culture that doesn’t accept failure will not support stretch projects. No team member will accept a stretch project, if they see it as a poisoned chalice. A positive culture is one that cultivates a growth mindset.

A growth mindset puts learning at the forefront and, as such, comes at the world with a certain set of assumptions. The big ones associated with the discussion here are:

  • Challenge is a part of learning.
  • Effort leads to learning.
  • Criticism is for learning.

Does this mean failure is an option? It depends what you consider a failure. Mistakes are inevitable and are not be feared. Failure will only occur when the goals are not clear, the team member hasn’t fully accepted the project and the manager isn't supporting the project. This is not a set and forget activity.

Building Momentum and Keeping it Up

A support structure is essential to the success of a stretch project. If the company has a formal project management process then this is a good place to start but regular documented meetings looking at the project itself as well as the needs of the team member are a minimum. Since time is often our most precious commodity, it is also our most precious gift. Schedule time to support your team member and their success will be your success - see the personal satisfaction section above.

In the final article of this series, we will take an exciting look at workforce diversity in the airport field. As always, please feel free to contribute to the conversation below with a comment or feedback.

Airport People Power: Discipline

Airport People Power: Discipline

 

This is part one of a three part series on approaches to airport people power inspired by Greg Principato's post on a key concern of airport executives: people.

At some point in the careers of most airport managers, the job becomes less about technical expertise and more about leading people. There are plenty of books on leadership, business and management by more eloquent, intelligent and talented people than this author. But in recently building a new airport team and operating model in a challenging regional airport environment, three areas of focus came to the fore.

The first of these is operating discipline. This area is, by far, the most foundational. It takes significant work to set up but it has a long lasting effect.

Operating discipline isn't some militaristic objective with a view to everyone doing exactly the same thing, marching to the beat of a drum played by the manager. It should not be considered or implemented as a restrictive regime limiting the free will of frontline staff.

But we can't escape the fact that many aspects of airport operations, such as security, airside safety, customs, quarantine, etc. are highly regulated with prescribed standards. Furthermore, there can often be unforgiving consequences to errors either through regulatory sanctions or real-world impacts to people and property.

class="p1">So how do we create an environment that ensures what needs to happen happens and still lets people have some ability to exercise creativity and initiative?

Focus on Outcomes

Airport People Power: Discipline

It might seem too easy to simply say “set the destination, not the route”, but let’s consider this approach first.

The reason for anyone to do anything, in business, is to realise a desired outcome - to achieve an objective. That outcome could be to declare the runway serviceable, to confirm a passenger’s eligibility to enter your country or to have a clean floor.

By starting out from this position, you and your team members will share the “vision” of what the process is trying to achieve. This can be powerful; Especially if the subsequent process you design doesn’t result in the desired outcome or the variables outside of the original plan get in the way. Sharing the vision will help make the process more resilient and self-correcting, but more on that below.

The Verb in this Situation is Build

What you build is completely up to you but generally there would be documented descriptions of the work required - call them Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS), Standard Work Practices (SWPs), it doesn’t matter what the name is.

As you build, keep in mind the old saying often attributed to Einstein, “everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler”. Be critical of everything that goes into any work process. There is danger in too much, it will be too difficult, ignored or circumvented, and there is danger in too little, parts of the work missed altogether or the ramification of certain results not understood.

Sometimes there is no room for creativity. A manufacturer’s requirements on a pre-start test of a walk-through metal detector is a pretty specific process. If the equipment has to checked at 15 points with a test piece in a specific orientation, then that’s what has to happen. There is no way around that.


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Developing Processes

While not advocating a specific approach to developing these work processes, it is strongly advised that whatever approach you take, it is consistent in itself. After all, that is our objective here.

If you do go down the SOP route, make up a standard template, use code references, date the procedure, use versioning, have standard pre-task activities, icons to highlight hazards and a standard approach to numbering steps. Set a culture of meeting expectations but set them with your team.

Here are some tips to help with the process:

  • Talk to the people that do the job - Hopefully, those in your team currently doing the work know how it is done, collectively, at least. They are the best source of information for what you want to set as the documented process.
  • Observe the work - Sometimes what people say they do and what they actually do is different. This is not necessarily a comment on their honesty but often the best operators can’t articulate what they do.
  • Manufacturers’ requirements - When dealing with equipment, it is best to listen to the people that designed and built it.
  • Risk-based approach - Consider conducting a risk assessment such as a Job Safety (or Step) Analysis.

Adding in the Airport People Power

Obviously, simply having a documented process is not going to result in predictable outcomes on its own. Training in the process will be required as will time to hone skills and develop experience. Let’s save this for a future article.

Continuous Improvement

Try as you might, you won’t get everything right the first time. Even if you did, the environment might change or new tools become available. This is where a set of continuous improvement processes are required.

The first practical process to consider is how are corrections or improvements documented for changes to be made. There is probably nothing easier than using a red pen, literally. Have a supply of red pens handy and whenever anybody identifies an issue with a process, ask them to write the details down on a copy of the process using red pen and give it to the person responsible for making changes.

Airport People Power: Discipline

In addition to people learning on the job, it is also good to bring in fresh eyes on a regular basis. Observations of the work in action are invaluable but don’t focus just on adherence to the process. Have observers also consider the objective of the process too. It might be that circumstances have changed and what used to produce the outcome you wanted, isn’t working anymore.

Discipline requires effort - both to build and to maintain. When so much is at stake, safety, security and compliance, we can’t afford to lose it.

In my next article, we will explore the development of airport people beyond the basics, on-the-job training and experience. In the mean time, we are also interested in hearing about our readers experiences, please leave a comment or feedback below.

Images: Header via Flickr, dartboard by Rob Ellis, grade by Dan Parsons.