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People matters


Rethinking performance

Richard Plenty and Terri Morrissey provide their thoughts on performance benchmarking.

Arguably the world’s greatest sporting event, the Olympic Games, is due to take place again this summer when Japan hosts Tokyo 2020.

The Games are a wonderful experience for spectators and participants alike. It is now almost eight years since we had the opportunity to see them in London in 2012 and enjoy the athletics, cycling, yachting and beach volleyball while marvelling at the dedication, persistence and grit of the competitors.

Thinking about London 2012 also made us wonder if there was anything we could learn about organisation and human performance from events like the Olympics.

This might sound strange as obviously all the participants at the Olympics are elite committed performers at a world-class standard. However, it was the nature of the overall programme that struck us. There are clear winners and losers. Results and feedback are immediate.

There is direct competition in the context of agreed formats and rules: the fastest runner, the highest jumper, the quickest time.

This is, of course, very different to much of life where many situations are not so clear cut and it can be difficult to know with certainty how well we are doing. Yet, knowing where we stand compared with others, gives us the opportunity to improve our performance and keeps us sharp.

How can we ensure high performance and best practice in the world of people performance at airports? In the absence of an ‘Airport Olympics’, to do this fully would mean putting into place an objective and transparent system comparing ‘like with like’ airports. This would need to consider:

  • The games they play. Airports differ greatly in their size, location, geography and climate as well as the range of services they provide and the type of traffic they deal with. They may have different strategic objectives and definitions of success.
  • The rules they follow. Airports may be public or privately owned, with different views on how closely to follow regulations or acceptable standards of service. They may keep all their services in-house or outsource.
  • The measures they adopt. For example, there are few standardised measures for assessing people and organisation performance.    

It is no surprise then, that, in practice, ‘external benchmarking’ and measuring productivity at the airport level can seem so daunting that many airports give up and focus inwardly on their own performance over time.

This is unfortunate. While trend analysis provides some level of performance tracking it does not allow for meaningful benchmarking, league tables or comparisons between airports to be made.

Focusing on specific areas and understanding, in depth, the details of how performance is measured elsewhere can provide a better starting point and a practical route to improvement. Mutually agreed shared criteria can be developed to make comparisons more meaningful.

Having said all this, people are more than numbers and generate value through a combination of intellectual contribution, skills, relationships, attitudes and behaviours. Qualitative as well as quantitative measures can enrich the exchange through conversations, visits, case studies and exchanges.

Time for a rethink!

Jesus Saenz Jr is the new director of San Antonio International Airport replacing Russ Hardy who announced his decision to step down in 2019 to move closer to his family on the US East Coast. Saenz, who left his post as chief operating officer of Houston Airport Systems to take up his new role, will also be responsible for Stinson Municipal Airport.

Chief operating officer, Dato’ Mohd Shukrie Mohd Salleh, has been appointed acting CEO of Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) as it looks for a permanent replacement for Raja Azmi Raja Zanuddin who resigned in December after less than a year in the hot seat. Announcing the decision, MAHB said that Zanuddin had left to “pursue other opportunities”.

Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport has a new boss following Nicolas Claude’s appointment as CEO of operator, Airport International Group (AIG). Claude, AIG’s former chief operations officer, succeeds Kjeld Binger, who will continue to act as a senior advisor to the Board.

Nompumelelo (Mpumi) Mpofu is the new CEO of Airports Company South Africa (ACSA). ACSA says that the highly experienced Mpofu – the former director general of South Africa’s Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation in the Presidency – joins the company at a time when it is “charting a fresh course for the future”.

Tatiana Starostina is the new chief financial officer of Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) replacing Ryan Yakubik who left LAWA in late 2019 for a position in the private sector.

Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK) has appointed Ricky Leung as its new executive director for engineering and technology. He succeeds the retiring Alex Kwan. Reporting to the AAHK CEO,
Fred Lam, Leung will be a key member of the senior management team.

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