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OTHER ARTICLES Last modified on June 21, 2017

Searching for the truth

Dr Richard Plenty and Terri Morrissey reflect on the importance of evidence in people issues.

When it comes to people, nearly everyone claims to be an expert. Many of us consider ourselves to be excellent judges of character. Understanding other people’s motivations and intentions is often seen as a matter of simple common sense. 

Experienced managers in particular tend to be convinced that their view of their employees’ attitudes and behaviours is correct. Not unreasonably, many will argue forcibly that if they weren’t able to understand others, they would not have risen to positions of responsibility. 

Indeed, many will say that they have a very clear insight into what motivates their people. “Trust me”, they say, “I know what they’re like!”

But common sense alone does not provide a good guide to human behaviour in large and complex systems. We may have a sound view of what motivates those closest to us, but this can be misleading in a wider context. 

Our own views on others are limited by our personal experience, prejudices and perspective. People who work in airport organisations come from diverse backgrounds with values and attitudes shaped by gender, generation and ethnicities, which may differ markedly from our own. 

In these types of circumstances, it can be easy for leaders and managers to misjudge a situation. 

In our own work we have had experience of a situation with a large multi-national organisation where there was a high turnover of talented, young skilled engineers. The general view was that this could be remedied by better induction, training, more pay and staged career progression. 

These were put in place at some cost, but the engineers still kept on leaving. 

It was only when the evidence from employee survey data, turnover statistics and leaver interviews were put together that it became obvious that the real reason for people leaving was that there wasn’t enough challenge in the job. People wanted more real responsibility rather than more support.

Evidence based approaches to organisation and people issues are the key to sustainable high performance. Measuring ‘intangibles’ brings them to life. 

Collecting data on employee numbers, turnover and sickness absence is the starting point. This can be augmented with information on employee attitudes, behaviours and perceptions. 

Modern data analytics allow this information to be used to show how these human factors are connected to, and drive, business performance and customer satisfaction. 

The true value of an evidence-based approach though is that it allows us to challenge our own assumptions and beliefs. 

San Diego International Airport uses people analytics imaginatively to encourage dialogue and discussion at a local level for just this purpose. Naples Airport has used the ACI AirPeople survey with great success to identify with precision the areas that need attention.

For in the end, false beliefs about people and organisations are even more damaging than ignorance. As Mark Twain said: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”


Arrivals and departures

Kimberly Becker has succeeded Thella Bowens as president and CEO of San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. The former director of San Jose International Airport enthuses: “This is an extraordinary opportunity that I am honoured to have. Thella has built a strong organisation and culture. Succeeding her allows me to leverage all that I have done in San Jose and to build on a very solid foundation. My excitement is mirrored in SAN’s tagline – Let’s GO!”

Berlin Brandenburg GmbH has a new CEO, Engelbert Lütke Daldrup, who has reportedly promised to lead the company “as transparently as possible”. Daldrup quit his position as State Secretary in the Berlin Senate to take up the role, signing a three-year contract with the airport operator. Former acting CEO, Dr Karsten Mühlenfeld, has left the company.

Tulsa International Airport and RL Jones Jnr Airport have a new CEO, Mark VanLoh. He was the unanimous choice of the Tulsa Airports Improvement Trust (TAIT), whose members believe that his 26 years of airport leadership experience will serve the Oklahoma gateways well. 

Heading through the outdoor is Salt Lake City Department of Airport’s executive director, Maureen Riley, who is retiring on June 30 after more than a decade in charge. “She has been an incredible director of our airport during a historic era of passenger growth, and has been a steward of the facility’s largest-ever construction project,” said Salt Lake City Mayor, Jackie Biskupski.

Shannon Group, operator of Ireland’s Shannon Airport, has shuffled the pack and promoted from within to make company secretary, Mary Considine, its new group deputy CEO for finance and corporate services; and group chief commercial officer, Andrew Murphy, the new managing director of Shannon Airport.

Sydney Airport has announced that Kerrie Mather has decided to retire as managing director and CEO. An international recruitment firm has been appointed to undertake a global search for a new CEO and she will stay onboard until a successor is found.


About the authors

Dr Richard Plenty is managing director of This Is… and currently leads the ACI Europe Leadership & HR Forum working group one employee engagement. Terri Morrissey is chairperson of This Is… and CEO of the Psychological Society of Ireland. Contact them through  

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