PEOPLE matters

The design of work

Richard Plenty and Terri Morrissey reflect on the importance of paying attention to designing a people-centric working environment.

As we write this article, we have just completed running the April 2024 ACI Human Resources programme, a five-day course which educates airport leaders and future leaders on key concepts and frameworks in modern strategic human resources management.

The course aims to develop the mindset, knowledge and skills necessary to lead and get the best from people in an airport context and achieve sustainable high performance in a world of uncertainty and change.

The course objectives and content are very topical. People aspects of the business are currently at the top of the agenda as airports face the challenges of attracting, recruiting and retaining sufficient numbers of skilled people to cope with the increased demand for travel.

We discuss how airports are changing and the skills required for the future. We work with participants to consider how their airports can become more attractive as employers, particularly to younger people. We also spend time looking at how best to engage and motivate people, so they want to stay working in the organisation.

One conclusion that emerges from just about every course is the importance of paying more attention to the design of work. This means designing and crafting work environments which enhance and encourage high performance and work enjoyment.

Most people intuitively understand that poor work design can inhibit workplace creativity, enjoyment and performance. How many people perform well when they don’t understand what is going on? How many of us enjoy being ‘micromanaged’ and not given a certain amount of autonomy in how we execute our role?

So, it is important that airport leaders establish organisation and work design principles that can help create a great working environment – a sustainable, high-performance culture which fosters employee engagement and helps people to thrive and grow. The following practices provide a starting point:

• Communicate a clear and inspiring organisation vison, mission and values so that people have the opportunity to understand and buy into the organisation’s purpose and direction – and feel a sense of ‘belonging’.

• Ensure the structure of the organisation facilitates the delivery of objectives, with clear role accountabilities and responsibilities. People need to understand what’s expected of them and should have a degree of autonomy in how they go about it.

• Design systems and processes that make it easier for people to do their work, including digital and IT which help get the job done, and where there is some flexibility in working arrangements

•  Develop a culture where high performance is expected and recognised, where people are supported, appreciated and treated with respect, and where there are opportunities for personal growth and career development. The style of leadership makes a huge difference to the working environment. Leaders at all levels need to role model the behaviours they would like to see.

There are many practical ways of putting these principles into practice. A recent publication from ACI EUROPE’s Leadership & HR Forum, People Engagement Guide 2023 provides hints and tips on those which are particularly important for work motivation.

Creating a top performing airport is about people as well as technology. Investing time and resources in designing a people-centric work environment is as important as designing the physical infrastructure. It’s two journeys – not one.

Arrivals and Departures

Jim Szczesniak is the new the director of aviation for the City of Houston and will oversee the management and operations of George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), William P Hobby Airport (HOU), Ellington Airport (EFD) and the Houston Spaceport. Szczesniak brings a wealth of experience having previously served as the airport director for the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and he spent a decade at the Chicago Department of Aviation where he eventually became deputy commissioner of aviation for O’Hare and Midway airports.

Elsewhere in Texas, Austin-Bergtstrom International Airport has named Ghizlane Badawi as its new chief executive officer, ending a year-long period of temporary leadership after the sudden resignation of the previous CEO last spring. The appointment of Badawi, who had been serving as interim CEO, is designed to “bring stability” to Austin-Bergstrom ahead of a host of expansion-related decisions before the City Council later this year.

Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) CEO, John Akerman, has made three new additions to his executve leadership team, appointing Maria Bleavins as chief airport administrative officer, Robert Lowe as chief people and culture officer, and Becca Doten as chief of staff.

London Gatwick has a new chief operating officer, Mark Johnston. He joins from AGS Airports, the owners of Aberdeen, Glasgow and Southampton airports in the UK, where he held a similar role for more than three years.

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