Published on Monday, August 7, 2017

Why your workforce needs to be less efficient

Robin Gadsby, CEO of Forever Beta, believes frontline staff across the travel industry will be saved a lot of grief if they are allowed to abandon 'efficient' follow-the-manual thinking and put customers' needs first. Here, he outlines a new business model for the travel industry

"For much of the last century, successful businesses were efficient businesses - organisations where the workforce was occupied all the time and downtime was perceived as unproductive. Whether it was an airline moving millions of passengers from A to B or a tour operator chasing maximum capacity, the emphasis was always on volume and 100% efficiency.

Then the world changed.

Advances in technology presented new opportunities and a vanguard of disrupters seized the moment to outflank rivals still trapped in outmoded thinking. To give just two examples: after providing a fresh alternative to the blandness of efficient hotels, OTAs are now looking over their shoulders as Airbnb's 'Trips' feature gains traction; and Uber continues to challenge established thinking across the entire transport sector.

These disrupters have done more than create headlines; they've reshaped consumer expectations and, all of a sudden, the game is no longer about joining the vanguard, it has become a matter of adapting or dying.

So now that the wheels of change are spinning so rapidly that it is all but impossible to predict the future, why do so many business leaders across the travel industry still spend weeks creating immutable strategies to prepare for imagined futures that may or may not materialise? And what should they be doing to adapt to this rapidly emerging business model, to the end of efficiency?

From efficiency to responsiveness

First and foremost, they need to make a difficult shift in mindset: they need to stop aiming to be 100% productive. For most of today's business leaders, this is not merely challenging - it is terrifying. They need to throw out the rule book and allow employees the space to think on their feet.

Tech has done much to empower frontline teams across the travel industry, but examples of poor customer interactions - and the damaging fallout - are still all too common.

When Dr Dao told United Airlines employees that he wouldn't vacate his seat to accommodate United staff, the cabin crew pressed ahead with company protocol - with disastrous results. A preconceived 'rule book' outcome was sought that left no room for manoeuvre - the man was dragged off the flight and the now-infamous bloodied images went viral.

United CEO Oscar Munoz admitted this happened because 'our corporate policies were placed ahead of our shared values. Our procedures got in the way of our employees doing what they know is right'. Since then, United has started trialling apps that give frontline staff the power to act on the spot and offer compensation to passengers who are asked to rebook.

From employees to partners

The most successful businesses will be those that free themselves from the outdated thinking that insists on a workforce operating at 100%. They will re-engineer their operations so their workforce is operating at 80%, perhaps 70%, capacity. This will free up people so they can spend 20% to 30% of their time finding solutions to the major issues - the issues that no one has had time to focus on because they've been kept 100% busy.

Frontline colleagues are the first people your customers meet. They give your brand meaning. They should be able to use their judgement and act in customers' best interests immediately - not worry about conforming to time-consuming protocol.

The best ideas will not necessarily come from the people in the organisation who are perceived to be the smartest. Empower everyone - a workforce of 10,000 is likely to produce a better outcome than a crack team of 20.

For every organisation, there will be a different implication, but for all businesses this is a critical moment in time - it's time to break free of Industrial Age thinking and leap into the Age of Inefficiency."

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