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How did Qantas improve its human resources management?

When it comes to organisational transformation a few key things can set a company up for long-term success. One of these is dynamic human resources management that ensures initiatives and strategies are executed from the ground up. In the lead-up to the annual AHRI awards, we spoke with one nominee about how he’s harnessed company-wide innovation to achieve tangible outcomes.

In 2012, Qantas was facing critical challenges. Increased competition from domestic and international airlines, record fuel bills, and a high Australian dollar had resulted in significant losses for the company. Ian Jackson, head of international operations, was an integral part of the team that developed a wide-reaching strategy that has resulted in the transformation of the business, outstanding financial results, high customer feedback and record levels of engagement. In advance of the AHRI awards this Thursday, he shared his human resources management journey with us.

What’s needed to implement a sustainable strategy?

“My role was to lead the development of a strategy and collaborate with other parts of the business to develop a strategy which wasn’t just focussed on costs, but was very critically focussed on our people and the customer.”

In the face of challenges such as achieving a 30 per cent reduction in headcount while with the need to balancing short-term strategies around cost, and long-term strategies around people and culture, Jackson believes that communication, along with strong business partnering, were his keys to success. He maintains that placing emphasis on customer operations was crucial to the financial success of the organisation, as well as developing a workforce with an intrinsic drive to do better year on year “because they feel connected to the strategy and seeing the benefits delivered.”

Another initiative Jackson considers critical was transparency and visible leadership at every level of the business “in terms of what we’re aiming to achieve and how success looks” – even through challenging periods.

“Difficult times were being experienced over various points over this program,” he explains. It was about “acknowledging that, but also acknowledging when we’ve still managed to meet or exceed the targets we’ve set for ourselves.”

Incorporating training, technology and recognition

Underpinning the entire strategy of performance and culture the company has been working towards over the past three to four years is the ‘creating great’ program, which is now entering its third iteration. The one-day training program, which cuts across all teams – from cabin, airport and ground operation teams – has ensured that an integrated approach moulds every facet of employee training.

The next step for Jackson and the Qantas team was bringing those lessons back to the workplace using technology that has been integrated into to day-to-day operations. Over the last three years, Qantas has enabled all front-line duty managers and customer service managers – on aircrafts as well as at airports – to use iPads. Known as the ‘red app’, this technology connects employees to “everything from channels on customer feedback to channels we push to them, to communication around how we’re performing. We’ve used that as a tool to keep directly in touch with our front-line people, even when they’re in 23 or 24 of our remote airports around the world,” Jackson says.

Finally, the culmination of each strategic element was a robust recognition program linked to accountability and the overall outcomes in terms of performance. For example, cabin crew who excel against key performance indicators receive rewards such as lounge access or an invitation to a two-day residential leadership development program.

“Everyone right out to the front line, as well as the partners within the organisation who are helping enable the strategy, are really clear on those targets are met and that there’s recognition, rather than being a continuum without that opportunity to pause and reflect.”

The key factor for success

For Jackson, the one thing he’s seen embedded in all levels of the company during the past years – from human resources management – is the concept of authentic leadership. It’s a mindset that has helped Qantas’ people understand strengths and weaknesses, both individually and from a business point of view, and has also ensured their people have felt comfortable with company-wide change.

“They knew we had a strategy that was robust and that despite what may come it would deliver over time – and it has,” Jackson says.

As for his thoughts on being nominated at the 2016 AHRI awards?

“I think it’s genuinely great recognition for a collaboration between the human resources team and the business. It has clearly delivered great customer and commercial outcomes for a number of years now and I believe will fundamentally continue to do so,” he says.

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