It’s quite a challenge to finance, design and build the physical infrastructure for a new airport development. But once you’ve built it, how can you ensure that it works as well as you had hoped?
That’s not so much a question of the physical assets themselves, important though they are. It’s more to do with human capital – the people that lead, manage and operate the airport. And fundamental to that is having people of the right quality.
Yet, whilst the planning of airport physical infrastructure is rarely left to chance, the approach taken to developing an airport’s human capital can be more variable. With a few notable exceptions, there isn’t the same emphasis and intense focus on building people capacity and capability in airports as you find in companies like Google.
And could you imagine a world-class competitive sports team paying more attention to its stadium than the identification, recruitment and development of talented players?
The key to building a strong and capable airport team is strategic people planning. When people join an airport organisation, they can end up staying with it for a very long time. Indeed, twenty or thirty years of service is not unusual. In that time, much will change. Airports are a growth sector, becoming more complex and competitive, heavily influenced by technology, with sustainability and the passenger experience central to success.
Strategic people planning involves analysis of the future needs for both ‘own employees’ and ‘contractors’ and succession planning for key positions. It is also likely to include plans for:
- Attracting people who aspire to senior leadership roles with the ability to manage uncertainty and complexity, as well as delivering consistently on objectives. This places strong demands on intellectual capacity, self-mastery and relationship skills in addition to the more traditional leadership qualities of drive, energy and determination.
- Recruiting and selecting people at all levels who not only have the right technical skills, but the right attitudes and values. These are the kinds of people who are prepared to take personal accountability and ownership for their actions, are keen to develop and are open to learning.
- Developing people already in the system to reach their full potential. A systematic approach to talent management is essential. Substantial gains can be made by identifying the hidden talent that exists in most organisations, and giving such people the opportunities for development and growth. Remember that development takes place not only through formal training but through experience in work assignments and on projects.
Investing in people is as important as investing in physical infrastructure.