Getting on a plane and travelling can be a complex task - your perfect plan is always susceptible to changes, whether they’re outside of your control or very much within it, mistakes happen. But for business professionals, these mistakes can be more than an annoyance - missed meetings, lateness or an inability to meet clients face to face can be the catalyst for missed opportunities and failed business deals. This fear of disrupted flight schedules was clearly something that the audience at the HR & Workforce Analytics Innovation Summit in Chicago sympathised with - it’s fair to say that at some time throughout all their careers a missed connection or a two-hour delay has stood between them and a deal clinching handshake.
Presenting in Chicago was Steve Ginsburgh, SVP, HR & Workforce Development at Universal Weather and Aviation. Founded in 1959 by former Air Force meteorologist and network weatherman Tom Evans, the company’s initial ambition was to provide customised weather forecasting for business aviation, a then unique endeavour. Since then, and as the company has evolved, it has developed its services so that every possible avenue for disruption is covered (there are normally 120 services per trip) - whatever the case may be, their mission statement remains the same; to make their clients’ trips a success’.
As with every customer service orientated company - happy staff equals happy customers. However, in 2006, when Steve joined the company, there wasn’t a HR structure in place that could facilitate this happiness. There was no compensation structure, very little training and a lack of meaningful metrics and employee structures - the bottom line was that there were very few long serving employees and little loyalty to the company. This resentment was only likely to spill over to their customers. At the summit, Steve jokingly pointed to an image of the company’s staff superimposed within a prison cell, but joking aside, with the structure they had in place, this was probably the only recourse they had left that could guarantee their staff would stay at the company - evidently, things had to change.
Steve states ‘people want to speak to individuals they’re comfortable with - if Mary leaves, chances are they’ll follow Mary’ - this observation is indicative of the industry Universal Weather and Aviation work in as staff get to know clients closely, striking up friendships, friendships which are unlikely to relinquish when ‘Mary’ leaves the company. If Mary leaves she not only takes her experience with her, but considerable revenue as well.
In order to keep ‘Mary’ in the company, and others like her, Steve and his team set about revolutionising the HR function at the company. This restructuring was encapsulated through three drivers; alignment, capabilities and engagement.
Alignment, which is defined by Steve as the ‘strength of employee connection to corporate goals and strategy’ is an imperative cog in their newfound HR structure. They hold monthly meetings which the employees are accountable for as they call the meeting and they set the agenda for it. This leads nicely into the year end summary where the accomplishments of the employee are directly matched against the goals and objectives of the company - at Universal Weather and Aviation they go about this process in a different manner - Steve says; the typical system is to tell employees they are meeting expectations, but how many CEO’s tell their stockholders they had a ‘meet expectations’ year - I don’t think many of them do’. Because of this, they tell the employee one of three things - either that they had an extraordinary year, a good year or a poor one. This keeps things simple for all parties and allows for the direction of the company to be easily mapped against that of the employee.
In terms of capabilities, Steve says ‘we actually market our employees’. They try and highlight their staff through professional shots, so that they are marketed to potential clients. Steve also says ‘one of the great things that has happened over the last seven years or so is that all the things we’ve built into HR now goes into our RFP’s so they’re actually selling the stuff we’ve put together’. Evidently they’re building part of the marketing base of the company which will go directly to their customers.
Engagement for a client facing organisation like Universal Weather and Aviation is imperative as the employee has to have the willingness to go above and beyond what is expected of them and be an ambassador for the company. Since 2006, there has been a real focus on retaining their best staff and not letting them go by the wayside. Their employee barometer is a vital tool for this and allows them to differentiate between staff who are worth investing in and those who are not. The members of staff who are excelling in their jobs are given recognition and a number of bonuses. The employee barometer has analytics at its heart and at the summit, Steve informed us of a number of results that showed the correlation between engaged staff and business success - for example, platinum and gold client retention is over 95% and the turnover of key employees is at 5-8%, even in an ‘oil company market’.
The results seen by the HR department at Universal Weather and Aviation have been impressive in the eight years since 2006. They’ve gone from being a slow, unstructured department to an efficient and effective machine that brings tangible benefits to both the customer and the client. Their vision to be the go-to company in this area is certainly a realistic one if their staff are as happy as the people they hope to serve going forward.