One way to see how successful (or unsuccessful) your training programs really are is when you are in a middle of an unexpected crisis. I am writing this blog on a Tuesday afternoon, 25 minutes after my plane was due to leave and I am sure at least two hours before it eventually will.
When the technology we rely on becomes unreliable
It takes a complete computer outage to realise the downside to the Internet of Things (IoT) or even our reliance on mobile check in as a reflection of our new normal.
I am old enough to remember paper airline tickets and fondly remember backpacking around Europe in the 90s terrified about losing my one copy of my ticket home.
Fast forward 25 years and interestingly nearly every person I have encountered in the last hour during this demonstration of chaos appear younger than 30 years and they probably do not even recall the days of paper tickets!
Chaos and confusion
Last week at 2pm a Jetstar flight was due to take me from Melbourne to the Gold Coast to facilitate a leadership team planning day. Fortunately, the planning day was tomorrow and as it stands I may only miss out on dinner. Of more concern for me is whether my checked bag arrives in the Gold Coast – otherwise the clothes I am wearing have a long three days ahead!
I arrived today at terminal 4 and was faced with a sea of faces, people in lines going nowhere and an enormous number of black and orange staff members looking confused.
Some were attempting to brief the lines of people, but for every 10 people they briefed, another 10 would only hear half the story and would interrupt and ask for clarification.
A staff member attempted to communicate that all tickets needed to be reissued manually, however after three efforts to communicate the correct check in locations the crowd interrupted as they would an AFL umpire having a bad day and provided the correct information in unison.
Business continuity processes…kind of
I was fortunate enough to go straight to the correct manual boarding area for my flight and was third in line, hooray, surely this won’t take long? I had checked in already, but after some indecision regarding what outfits to bring I had decided to check a small suitcase and needed baggage drop. Personal note, do not check in bags again unless you are traveling for longer than 5 nights or 5 hours, ever again!!
Leadership in a crisis will either make or break you
One hour later, I was finally being checked in – I would have thought this was something practiced regularly or at least once before, but this is when mass chaos began! At least they had corralled one flight per counter, despite the seven airline employees in front of me, I felt like I was in the middle of a group interview exercise gone wrong! One of the seven was a team leader (well, that’s what her badge indicated) but she just hung back, asked if everything was alright, added advice randomly but was not a guiding influence.
Clear roles and consistent communication is crucial
Two individuals were “checking me in” – one wrote out a hand board pass, the other kept flipping pieces of paper, neither communicated with the other or myself and those around me looked on incredulously.
Three team members stood at the entrance of the baggage chute – I believe they were meant to weigh the bags so this was written on the tags, but I weighed my own bag and they stood and chatted amongst themselves. I found myself with a hand written pass, a hand written tag with bar code sticker and reluctantly handed my baggage through.
So here I sit – printed boarding pass in my back pocket as well as a printed pass I received when I reached the empty gate hoping to arrive in the Gold Coast at least some time later tonight.
What does this all mean with regard to people management and what can we learn from their shortcomings:
- Plan ahead for the worst case scenarios and train your people in simple processes that are based on practical situations.
- When a crisis occurs, stop and plan – it’s better to take time to get the team on board before they respond than respond in ad hoc, inefficient or reactive ways.
- Leaders stand up in a crisis – look for people that are willing to direct and lead in a crisis and others will follow. A strong leader can mobilise troops in ways that even they didn’t know. Some people are natural followers which can be great but they are desperate for a leader to show them the way.
- Communicate internally first before you communicate with customers – it’s no use communicating with us, the customers, if the team doesn’t know the plan.
- Respond to your environment – situations change, leaders review the environment regularly and change direction to make the most of the new circumstances.
I finally left Melbourne at around 5.30pm, and thankfully arrived in GC to find my luggage waiting for me (but well too late to attend the team dinner).
A preventable loss of future business
It’s not the computer glitch which will influence my purchasing decision in the future, it’s how it was managed by the team members and leaders of the business.
Does your business provide clear, practical training to manage a crisis? Do you regularly reinforce and embed the training? A small investment in your people will pay big dividends when it comes to retaining your customers during an unavoidable incident.