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!