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PASSENGER SERVICES Last modified on January 1, 2014

Culture club

Tina Oakley, HR director of London Gatwick, talks to Sarah McCay about the airport’s new corporate culture and its positive impact on the passenger experience.

When you have a staff of 2,600 made up of 40 nationalities working to serve every nationality under the sun, the importance of recognising and respecting cultural differences could not be higher.

This is an average day for London Gatwick’s staff. The challenges faced by them are many and unpredictable, but the airport is going all out to ensure its team is well equipped to cope.

Since leaving the BAA stable in 2009 after its purchase by Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), London Gatwick has upped the ante on staff training and HR issues as it competes head-to-head with London Heathrow to become ‘London’s airport of choice’.

GIP’s results-driven approach has seen London Gatwick develop a stronger corporate culture and adopt a new, more customer-focused philosophy.

Leading the change in terms of staff approach is Tina Oakley, appointed as HR director of London Gatwick in September 2010. She joined the airport from P&O Ferries where she was HR director, but is no stranger to the unique nuances of the aviation sector, having clocked up 26 years working for British Airways in a variety of operational, customer service, commercial and HR roles.

Since coming onboard at London Gatwick, Oakley has introduced new staff training schemes, a new look and helped the airport define its vision and ambition for the future.

“The philosophy we have here is about treating every customer and employee as an individual and recognising that everyone is different; their reasons for travelling and working will be different,” Oakley stresses.


Turn It Up

London Gatwick introduced its ‘Turn It Up’ staff training programme to frontline security teams last autumn, with a view to making the journey through security less stressful and more human.

“Our Turn It Up training focused on helping our people to recognise the individual differences of customers. We taught them to look for body language and read individual needs. It’s about altering your style,” Oakley explains.

Turn It Up proved such a success that London Gatwick is now rolling it out elsewhere, including to those that work with passengers with reduced mobility, car park staff, and even third party providers.

Since the GIP buy-out, staff training has been a core element of London Gatwick’s pursuit of improved operations and key performance indicators.

“When GIP first took over, the focus was on operational excellence. Now we have that as a bedrock, we are looking more at the passenger experience,” reveals Oakley.

“London Gatwick is now a very energetic, fast-paced environment focused on competing and wanting to win. We are very performance-based. All of our staff now have an appraisal twice a year and get messages on how they are performing – that was a first for London Gatwick.”

As well as the new appraisals system and the Turn It Up programme, London Gatwick also operates an on-the-job mentoring scheme.

“Frontline staff are assigned to a team leader who offers support in terms of development and needs for the business. Reinforcement, while it might happen in a training facility, also happens on the job,” Oakley explains.

Her team also works closely with third party service providers. “The airport’s ‘Rhythm of Gatwick’ programme is about putting our values out across the airport with third parties,” enthuses Oakley.

“Their staff are key to making sure everyone is in tune with where Gatwick wants to be. Retail operators also want us to run the Turn It Up programme for them. We are taking it step by step across the campus.”


Language barrier

Communication is key and all members of the London Gatwick team have
to speak a high level of English. Some members of the concierge staff can speak up to 30 languages.

Technology is another tool used to help overcome the language barrier and some frontline staff now carry iPads.

“We’ve got iPads around the building and people can self-serve; but we also feel strongly that you do need that people element, so it is a combination of the two,” explains Oakley. “The iPads are used in certain circumstances, but the human element is key. We like to think that we are able to host our passengers as guests as they come through.”

London Gatwick also has Google Maps for the airport and a lot of the passengers who are tuned into technology use these to help them navigate around.


New look

In addition to a new staff ethos, London Gatwick has also unveiled a new wardrobe of staff uniforms, inspired by employee feedback.

Stylish but designed to be fit for purpose, the new 21-piece collection was designed to stand out and give staff and passengers the feel of London Gatwick having a strong brand identity.

“The new uniform is teal and purple in colour and designed to look more approachable, less like a security uniform,” says Oakley. Name badges have been added to maximise the approachability of all staff.

The new uniform is the result of a 12-month project that gained the feedback of 1,400 airport employees who were asked for their comments on their clothing needs and invited to vote on their favourite designs.


Investors in people

London Gatwick’s HR success can be easily seen throughout the terminal. However, if further evidence was required of how the new corporate culture is working then the airport’s recent Investors in People (IiP) 2013 status is a testament to how programmes such as Turn It Up are contributing to the success of the organisation.

“When I first arrived, there was a survey that showed our relationship with our people was slightly wanting,” admits Oakley. “After getting that information, we put a real focus on people leadership and making that a way of life, so when we came to be benchmarked we were successful in getting accreditation, but more delighted to have changed our relationship with our people.”

The IiP standard is defined and set by business leaders, based on 39 must-haves that organisations measure up against. IiP accreditation covers everything from business planning and leadership, to management effectiveness and performance measurement.

However, now London Gatwick has IiP status, it is not sitting back. In fact, Oakley and the team are now going for the Best Companies survey to benchmark again. “The aim is to keep moving the bar further and further,” admits Oakley.

London Gatwick also uses events such as the London 2012 Olympics as a spearhead for change and improvement.

“We had eight different organisations working together as a team to make sure those coming through [for the Olympics] had a great experience. It was great to be part of that,” she says.

“Afterwards, we look at the whole picture and learn from it so we are even better the next time. We are good at looking forward here. There are always other things around the corner and so we look at the next challenge.”

Looking ahead, London Gatwick has its eyes on the prize and HR is to play a central role in achieving its ambitions, says Oakley.“Today’s London Gatwick is change-focused, energetic and very competitive with a strong vision of where we are going. I think most people would say it’s a very exciting time at Gatwick as there is literally so much happening,” she muses.

“Our focus is on people. We recognise that customers do have a choice and it is our ambition to become London’s airport of choice.”

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