Sales Culture Rule 6: Let Go, H.O.!!

“Sometimes you have to let go to see if there is anything worth holding on to.”

Each and every airline in the world has its own culture, which trickles down from central management to the farthest reaches of its network. This is the primary responsibility of a carrier’s–or any company’s–leadership. Establish a mission, vision and ideals upon which the organization is predicated, implement a structure and a series of processes to carry out the mission, and put the right leadership in place to do it. At that point, though, the centralized control has to be loosened a bit.

Every airline has a limited pool of resources to invest, and the best ones are able to find the optimum investment balance among its people, its tactical and brand marketing, its infrastructure and its operations. By this logic, to invest any significant resource in recruitment, only to micromanage that resource from a central perch, is highly inefficient. Hiring the best people is challenging, and if you’re going to take on that challenge, you have to then allow those people the freedom and flexibility to perform their jobs under the premise that making it through the recruitment process warrants a fair bit of trust. If you aren’t going to allow this, then why invest any time in finding good people anyway? Just take on the cheapest, or most readily available.

Far too often, though, especially when regional and cultural components are in play, a sales force can feel an “us against them” dynamic in interactions with Head Office. This in practice undermines the credibility of the HR team responsible for recruitment, and can alienate and demotivate talented newcomers in the process.

As touched on at the beginning of this post, it is imperative that high-level strategy and brand consistency is passed down and implemented from a central watch. However, the ‘enforcement’ process to make sure that these outlines are being followed should not reside in an abundance of front-end rules or prohibitions, but rather in back-end KPIs (Key Performance Incentives). If KPIs are clearly established and measurable, the the chickens will come home to roost for those regional managers or sales staff who aren’t following the guidelines, and it will happen soon enough. A perfect example of this would be with pricing strategy. Central management may push premium pricing as part of a brand strategy, but rather than requiring every local, regional pricing change to go through 27 levels of approvals, the KPI should be clearly established to address yield, at which point the region or individuals not adhering to that pricing strategy will be exposed. Besides creating individual empowerment and accountability, this also keeps business processes fluid and adaptable to the pace of modern business.

As an aside to this point, carriers need to ask themselves what battles are really worth fighting with staff–non-business essential things like tacking on a personal day or two to an international business trip. Things that make people feel a positive work-life balance, that don’t cost the carrier a penny. One particular carrier I know of offers First and Business passengers a premium terminal for connections through its hub. However, it bans all sales staff shy of VP level from even accessing the facility for a tour while visiting Head Office for business. Besides the obvious resentment, this also handcuffs a sales person who is being asked to sell a brand based very heavily on this premium experience, but hasn’t actually experienced it himself beyond thumbing through a brochure. Is this really such a big deal for a Head Office to scoff about, when you’re talking about a total sales force of 50 or 100 people, who may visit the hub once a year?

Branding? Central. Corporate strategy? Central. Beyond that, “Central” would be best served to let go, stop worrying about the minutae, and allow competent staff that they’ve invested heavily in to make competent decisions.


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Customer Engagement Strategy for the Airline Industry