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People Matters - Expect the unexpected

Dr Richard Plenty and Terri Morrissey reflect on: Uncertainty.

We do our very best to predict the future. In the airport industry, for example, decisions to invest in major new infrastructure are not taken lightly. 

A thorough business case must be prepared before money is committed. 

Passenger growth projections are reviewed, business scenarios developed and cash flow forecasts examined. Environmental and social impact studies are commissioned. 

Yet in reality, these plans, forecasts and projections rarely turn out as expected. Who, for instance, could have foreseen that an exploding Icelandic volcano in 2010 would result in the largest air traffic shut down since the Second World War? 

And who really knows what the impact of technological innovation, environmental considerations, security concerns or social and political change will be on future demand for air travel?

The fact is that we live in a ‘VUCA’ world – a world characterised by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity – which makes the unexpected the real predictability. 

We need to be prepared not only to expect the unexpected but also to have strategies for dealing with it.   

Yet most people find dealing with uncertainty difficult. Rather than face up to VUCA realities, our tendency is to look for facts and evidence that support our preconceptions or to follow people who claim confidently that they alone have the answer. Are there other approaches that might be better? 

Have the courage to experiment

Old mindsets and mental models don’t always work when times are changing. As Peter Drucker says: “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” Innovative approaches may be required. Learn from others who have had similar experiences and be ready to try out new approaches.

Prepare for the worst

People have an inbuilt ‘optimism bias’, which means we don’t like to think through worst case scenarios or indeed any potential outcomes we don’t like. This positive tendency serves us well and keeps us healthy in everyday situations, but is unhelpful in times of crisis or uncertainty. ‘Thinking the unthinkable’ saves us time and helps us be prepared when things don’t turn out as we’d hoped.

Build resilience and mental toughness

Why do some people and organisations persevere through difficulties and others give up? Research carried out to identify the characteristics which allow some people to thrive under pressure shows the importance of confidence, a sense of being in control and seeing unexpected change as an opportunity rather than a threat. These qualities can all be developed and learned.

Making plans for the future is sensible but we must be prepared for a wide range of possible outcomes and develop the capabilities to adjust and adapt speedily when the unexpected happens. 

In a VUCA world, the only thing we should ever doubt is certainty.

 

Arrivals and departures

The aviation industry will lose another leading light on March 31 when Thella Bowens retires after 15 years as president and CEO of San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. Bowens, who plans returning “home” to Texas where she once worked and many members of her family reside, said: “I have passionately enjoyed my time here, and I am so very proud of our exemplary organisation and high-performing team.”

Huntley Lawrence is the new director of aviation at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, succeeding the retiring Thomas Bosco as the head of the US’s largest airport system.

Atlanta City Council has confirmed Roosevelt Council as the new general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. “Roosevelt Council is the right person to lead our administration’s efforts to ensure Hartsfield-Jackson retains its position as the world’s leading passenger airport,” said Atlanta Mayor, Kasim Reed. 

Joseph Nardone is the new boss of Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, succeeding Thomas Naughton who retired last year. Nardone will also be responsible for Willow Run Airport (YIP) in his capacity as CEO of Wayne County Airport Authority.

Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK) has appointed Alex Kwan King-fai as its new executive director for engineering and technology, succeeding the retiring John Chai Sung-veng. Kwan will report to AAHK CEO, Fred Lam.

San Antonio Airport System has named Russell Handy as its new aviation director. Retired US Air Force general, Handy, will be responsible for overseeing the future success of San Antonio International Airport (SAT) and Stinson Municipal Airport. 

Former fighter pilot and diplomat Gratien Maire is the new CEO of Groupe ADP subsidiary, ADP Ingénierie (ADPI). He succeeds Olivier Berger who will develop engineering and innovation for Groupe ADP after successfully turning around ADPI’s performance and devising its new business plan.

Indianapolis Airport Authority’s governing board has elected Barbara Glass as president and Steve Dillinger as vice president. 

 

About the authors

Dr Richard Plenty is managing director of This Is… and delivers ACI’s ‘Airport Human Resources’ training. Terri Morrissey is chairperson of This Is… and CEO of the Psychological Society of Ireland. Contact them through  

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