The COVID-19 pandemic has led to global concern over air travel safety. The truth is that there is no best model for airports to follow when it comes to assuring travelers and the public at large. What’s needed is not just a new policy but a structural change.
While businesses continuously employ and deploy coping mechanisms in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these actions almost always affect people, processes, and technology differently. However, given massive uncertainty about the future, until long-term preventative medicine arrives, the situation is dynamic for the foreseeable future.
How then should an organization equip itself?
Rather than focus on strategies specific to COVID-19, ICF studied core foundational aspects of a longer-term all-encompassing solution approach. What we learned was the benefit of adopting a process-based philosophy—one that employs effective coping mechanisms not only for the dynamic nature of the pandemic but for always.
The importance of SOPs
Every new employee who joins an organization is provided, at some time, standard operating procedures (SOPs) or an equivalent reference handbook. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen new and specialized SOPs and revisions to existing SOPs.
Keeping up-to-date, relevant SOPs has always been a challenge for any organization; the COVID-19 pandemic further compounds this. While the issue may seem trivial in the broader context of businesses striving to stay afloat, SOPs are frequently—and unfairly—viewed as administrative and regulatory burdens rather than core operations tools.
Many firms now offer labor cost reduction programs through staff downsizing, including voluntary and involuntary departures, not just of people but also of institutional knowledge. Given the emerging business continuity risk, SOPs are a vital source of information and know-how to remaining staff.
In an ideal operating environment, SOPs would be available in real-time, on-demand, at point-of-use. They would facilitate immediate and integrated access to technology, with up-to-date publications, regulations, references, and protocols from approved sources.
Capturing institutional knowledge
The austerity measures airports are now taking can result in skills-based operational risk. For example, the aviation industry will let go of 100,000 aviation industry staff by the end of 2020. At an average (conservative) estimate of 10 years of experience per person, this means 1 million years of collective institutional knowledge lost.
Systemic capturing of this institutional knowledge should be a continuous improvement program within any airport.
According to the Center for Creative Leadership, the 70-20-10 Model for Learning and Development holds that individuals obtain:
- 70% of their knowledge from job-related experiences.
- 20% of their knowledge from interactions with others.
- 10% of their knowledge from formal educational events.
To capture the 70% of job-related experiences requires defined and measured performance criteria. Airports can apply several performance characteristics with varying metrics and dimensions to processes and tasks, including staff productivity, time, use of technology, compliance, and safety risks.
Given how daunting it is to measure each task for each role, airports must determine priorities. Categorizing tasks as critical, value-added, and high risk would flag such priorities and help airports manage the important few versus the trivial many (analogous to the Pareto Principle, where 20% of all tasks create 80% of the value).
A performance management program should also identify the level of technology enablement and automation in the execution of business processes. A higher level of automation and IT enablement should naturally favor better enterprise performance.
As airports and organizations use staff reductions to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant uptick in the usage and adoption of IT systems. Many human-focused tasks and processes are becoming—or should become—automated. Specific IT technologies like machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), and robotic process automation (RPA) should all apply to the design and measure of “new” business processes.
Conditions, ownership, and operations
Process management and performance measurement almost always revolve around “looking good” rather than around reflecting where improvements are needed.
Organizational structures hardly see established Centers of Excellence (CoE). A well-designed CoE is best characterized as a cross-functional virtual team and not a physical department. It should establish "rules” of engagement, responsibilities, protocols, and collaboration, and practice these rules as an ordinary course of business.
As we know from the workplace, staff with more experience and institutional knowledge would likely be more competent and skilled, especially for technical jobs. How, then, can we best have this competency equally shared across all staff performing the same role?
There are three fundamental tenets to such an arrangement:
- Conditions. How well processes are adopted should be the subject of ongoing analysis. The respective objects should have assigned managers, should reside in revision-controlled repositories with change management protocols, and should be equipped with online collaboration tools.
- Ownership. A RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) index should distribute ownership of program objects, tasks, and responsibilities—a tenet of making valuable institutional knowledge always accessible throughout the organization in the ordinary course of business.
- Operations. On the operations front, real-time and on-demand integrated learning is crucial. Having active role champions geographically and virtually close to systems users and process actors is a major advantage over a central Help Desk.
In our model, the conditions should be satisfied with a defined ownership structure to fulfill operations (see Figure 1).