“People4Cargo - Make people the center of your strategy for successful transformation and sustainable future” was the title of the first kick-off webinar in a series of six TIACA-hosted webinars replacing this year’s Air Cargo Forum which should have taken place in Miami in November. Moderated by STAT Media’s Reji John, the panel included Lufthansa Cargo CCO, Dorothea von Boxberg, Jessica Tyler, President of Cargo & VP of Airport Excellence, American Airlines Cargo, and Steve Townes, Chairman and CEO, ACL Airshop.
In an industry that is now rushing to push digitalization to the top of the agenda, given the impetus from the pandemic for transparency, efficiency, collaboration and contactless, and at the
same time has had to deal with furlough, contract termination and down-sizing, it is all to easy to forget about “People”. Yet, “Cargo is a People Business”, is an evergreen credo and,
in his opening remarks in the webinar, TIACA’s Steven Polmans underlined that “People are one of the three core pillars of Sustainability: People, Planet, Profit.” Commiserating the fact
that the physical ACF in Miami had not been possible, TIACA had “embraced a new situation and made the best of it,” with the added benefit, that the digital ACF format could “reach
more people” than the physical event – which is often limited to just a few representatives from each company.
Coming together through communication
In fact, reaching more people, is one of the positive outcomes over the past 8-9 pandemic months also within companies, as the panel members confirmed, when asked by Reji John as to what has changed, and how to keep staff motivated. In all three organizations, the fragmentation caused by home office and short-time work, led to digital communication lines, be they internal communication apps along the lines of Yammer, or web-conferenced “Town Hall” meetings growing in acceptance, often leading to interviews and insights into individual frontline workers and bringing the company closer together and on a more personal level: “Everyday Heroes” was an example Dorothea von Boxberg illustrated, along with the emphasis on social events, such as a virtual “Drink a Beer Together After Work” session. Clear, transparent communication is key to keeping people together and motivated.
People make the difference
“Air freight doesn’t move on its own - People make the difference,” Dorothea von Boxberg said. That people are at the core of the cargo business was already established prior to Covid-19. All three panel members agreed that good staff are people with skills and attitude, who want to know that their work has value and purpose. “We all want to contribute to something bigger than ourselves,” is how Jessica Tyler put it, whilst “Chief Encouragement Officer”, Steve Townes talked about fostering a “high-performance culture” and that “good things happen” when people are clear on what they are doing and why, and love where they work. All three agreed on the importance of a “we” culture: “we are in this together and we look out for each other.” Both Jessica Tyler and Steve Townes illustrated the importance of everyone being involved in setting up the company vision together, for greater acceptance, motivation and successful implementation.
We are in this together
The pandemic has given everyone a new meaning to what they do. With all the PPE flights and the obvious importance of air cargo in keeping supply chains and especially medical services running, it has become clear beyond just those in the air cargo industry, that air cargo is “enabling global business” and – even more importantly – “enabling global health,” Jessica Tyler stressed. “Our purpose has never been clearer,” she emphasized.
The challenges posed by the pandemic have found sustainable solutions in the form of a more agile way of working in a cross-functional environment. Work-streams have created positive disruption to traditional ways of work, that she hopes and expects will remain in force even when the pandemic is over, since they lead to faster decisions and uncover new talents and functional skills. Knowledge-sharing has also taken off and brought people together. “We are a learning organization.”
From a leadership point of view, the importance of re-skilling and re-tooling people during a transition, to really capitalize on their skills, is key to sustaining employee commitment and drive.
Diversity that you can see and diversity that you cannot see
On the topic of Diversity, Dorothea von Boxberg underlined perspective as a major benefit in a company that is made up of people from different backgrounds, genders, and ages, but also stressed that each individual benefits from diverse experiences they can gain by taking on different roles within the company – moving from headquarters to the field or vice-versa, for example. That way everyone can contribute to the greater picture.
An opinion shared by Jessica Tyler, who also agreed on the “coverage of perspective” resulting from a rich variety of ideas and experiences. She pointed out the importance of going beyond the diversity that is visible: gender, race, etc, and making an effort to really get to know employees on a personal level, illustrating the case of a female colleague who had lived in a number of different countries, and able to speak different languages: skills that could easily be overlooked if undiscovered. “Diversity should not stop on the surface. Empathy is key to creativity and problem-solving.”
Make people the center of your strategy
In summary: the pandemic, whilst causing chaos and challenges, has positively disrupted the long-standing air freight industry, by bringing people closer together in times of crisis, and enforcing a faster, more flexible approach to decision-making and processes that may well be here to stay. People, their adaptability, and their various skills, are the basis for the success of an industry.
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