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Motivating your workforce in challenging times

How “Team Heathrow” is building back healthier

March 14, 2022

Despite financial pressures, Heathrow is committed to achieving targets set in Heathrow 2.0, its sustainability strategy, and providing a ‘living wage’ to all its colleagues.
Aerospace|Compensation Strategy & Design|Total Rewards
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Virtual delegates to a recent WTW webinar featuring Javier Echave, CFO of Heathrow Airport Holdings, were treated to a masterclass in ideas for motivating the workforce.

At the start of the event, hosted by Rowan Douglas, head of WTW’s Climate Resilience Hub, delegates were offered exclusive insights into how Heathrow was encouraging its commercial eco-system to join the UK’s biggest airport in managing their climate risks.

The discussion then turned to the airport’s strategy for managing the types of risks that WTW’s Airport Risk Community (ARC) may see as critical to ensuring a viable commercial enterprise in aviation, or any sector: human factors.

According to Echave, a colleague’s ability to see their position at work, as a part of something greater builds enduring motivation.

According to Echave, a colleague’s ability to see their position at work, as a part of something greater builds enduring motivation. For example, from a climate perspective, he does not see Heathrow as a simple hub for aeroplanes, with the inevitable emissions challenges. Rather, he sees it as part of a global aviation industry that is “the force that connects cultures and countries, and the force that enables many of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals”.

For some, that may seem to be a ‘hopeful’ analysis. But when colleagues understand they are relevant to a greater cause, he said, it provides the incentive they need to stay connected to and motivated with their work.

Echave told more than 250 webinar delegates, many of whom were from the Airport Risk Community (ARC), that inspiration was derived from assuring the presence of three elements in the workplace: relevance – the belief that what you are doing is meaningful and addresses an organisational need; competence – the feeling that what you are doing consistently uses and expands your intelligence; and passion, the motivation to remain engaged with what you do.

For someone to be really, really engaged and inspired [companies] need to enable great moments at work”

Javier Echave
CFO, Heathrow Airport Holdings

These three conditions are the components that keep colleagues inspired by their jobs, according to Echave. “For someone to be really, really engaged and inspired [companies] need to enable ‘great moments at work’,” he said. “On those days…we all feel fulfilled; we feel inspired.”

The challenge is finding pragmatic ways to help colleagues see the connection. The solution may be found by offering training, shifting how accountabilities are allocated, providing greater work flexibility, or simply raising the company focus on colleague well-being, all things that concurrently also make Heathrow a better employer.

While some organisations may see these solutions as additional cost centres at a time when the pandemic is severely challenging most aviation companies’ ability to remain in the black, Echave sees a direct line between colleague engagement and corporate health.

“Productivity and engagement are some of the biggest opportunities to improve the costs of any organisation,” he said. “We’ve all experienced how different we feel when we are operating at 105% of our potential, as opposed to 70. [Improving] that productivity gap is by far the biggest enhancement you can achieve. And many times, it can be as simple as realising that people deserve a fair salary that is aligned with market practice. It is absolutely critical.”

In 2017, Heathrow made providing a ‘living wage’ to all its colleagues an element of Heathrow 2.0, its sustainability strategy. That strategy is currently being refreshed to bring it more into line with how it has evolved to define itself as a company.

Heathrow defines itself as a service organisation…with a vision to give passengers the best airport services in the world.

Heathrow defines itself as a service organisation, rather than just an airport, with a vision to give passengers the best airport services in the world. To do that, Echave said, requires colleagues who share the vision; offering a living wage is part of that. “It is extremely difficult and completely unfair to ask your people to provide exceptional service when they cannot reach the end of the month,” he told delegates.

However, the stubborn economic impact of the pandemic also ensured that it has not been one-way traffic for salaries at the airport. Echave said they had to reduce some salaries “that were significantly above market conditions”, potentially testing the airport’s relationship with its unions.

We passionately believe that our people are our most critical asset.”

Javier Echave
CFO, Heathrow Airport Holdings

But just as he encourages his financial team to recognise that they serve the company’s colleagues by keeping the airport in robust financial health, he is also clear that Heathrow serves its unions by providing their members with a safe and secure workplace. “We passionately believe that our people are our most critical asset. We make sure we provide careers to people rather than jobs and that we provide fair terms and conditions and an environment where people can really experience those great moments at work,” he said.

For him, the fundamental challenge of the past two years was the way the pandemic tested the company’s commitment to its goals, which included everything in Heathrow 2.0 and longer goals, some of which it shares with the airport’s neighbours and the partners in its ecosystem.

The primary focus during that time may have been protecting the business, but any defensive strategy also had to align with “winning the recovery”, building back healthier and making sure that “Team Heathrow” continued to build the airport they wanted by the end of the decade.

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