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Development Discussion are Key to Philippines Airlines' Success

It is no mean feat to become a five-star airline in five years. Which is why former Philippine Airlines President Jaime T. Bautista called for major reforms in view of the company’s ambitious 2020 vision of providing world-class service in the skies and on the ground.

Philippine Airlines wants to enshrine Filipino values in its Buong Pusong Alaga, or “The Filipino Touch” brand of hospitality. This representation is seen to distinguish the airline from its competitors and cement its legacy as a national carrier and longest running airline in Asia. Proactive and selfless service is at the heart of this culture, and the corporation’s workforce is front and center in relaying it.

Global Leadership Forecast 2018 data shows that “what leaders talk about matters far more than how often. Engagement levels for those whose performance is being managed surge when at least 75 percent of the discussion centers on development.” Vice President of Human Capital Me-An Llamzon seems to agree. Check out our conversation with her about PAL’s journey to transformation.

How does the strategy of Buong Pusong Alaga support the vision?

When PAL’s ownership changed, a new vision and identity had been conceptualized. We realized the need to elevate our services, especially at the frontline, to five-star quality. Our goal was to build a high-performance culture – performance in the delivery of service–so we plugged in programs and strategies to engage our employees.

We wanted to hold employees to the brand’s promise of delivering the “buong puso at alaga” (wholehearted care) quality of service. In keeping with Buong Pusong Alaga, the company had to enhance the performance management system (PMS) by creating a roadmap. The PMS has been around for 30 years, but it never really took off, given weak compliance among employees. We had to strengthen coaching and inculcate it as a basic skill among leaders and as part of the roadmap to a high performing culture. The thing is, coaching has been a long-time practice in our company without us putting a label on it. The PMS roadmap set off all the processes, such as focus on learning and development.

We recognized the need to focus on the manner frontline skills were being conveyed to our passengers, and of course, that would be under the watch of middle managers who are immediately accountable during crises. Thus, they became the subjects of our coaching and mentoring efforts.

What is the importance of frequent performance touchpoints?

Recently, we have been updating important performance touchpoints. We are not there yet but significant steps have been taken. This used to be a laborious procedure that has since been watered down to its current manageable version. Talking to the people on a regular basis allows us to go back and forth with the performance assessment. These touchpoints are increasingly critical to strengthen coaching. We see the value of regularly talking with our employees, especially since the generational landscape is changing and there is increasing specialization within the ranks.

The goal is a feedback mechanism that’s second nature to employees. It’s as simple as accepting feedback from a co-worker you meet in the hallway. The employees are also using apps frequently tracking performance. The skills emphasized in this practice are accepting and giving feedback. It’s the basic foundation before we can say we’ve caught up with other companies.

What adjustments have you had to make in terms of coaching and mentoring various groups (e.g., gender, generational)?

We guided middle managers in coaching the young ones. We mentored them by drawing up a detailed checklist for specific situations. We also identified the important skills that have to be deployed according to scenarios.

Apart from contending with a new generation of employees, we also observed the situational gender balance. It so happened that the younger leaders in my department are female, and those in higher leadership positions are male. So, there’s an intersection of old and new populations.

I’ve observed that young female leaders are open to teaching. They also tend to conduct frequent touchpoints, even more often than I do. The male leaders (who also happen to be older) are seldom seen gathering their team around for a group coaching session. Maybe it’s because they benefit from having members of a new outspoken generation in their teams, who don’t hesitate to bring up points of improvement and suggestions. To their credit, elder male leaders listen and keep an open mind. Our Millennial employees are given the opportunity to speak out during townhalls. In fact, they have free rein, even in front of high-ranking executives. So, in terms of coaching and mentoring opportunities and knowledge and learning exchange between generations, there’s a kind of osmosis going on.

In general, we tailor our training courses to the prevailing attitudes of the two main generations. Despite this measure, I do wonder if there’s a generation gap, simply because there is a general openness all around. Forty-seven percent of employees are Millennials and only 22 percent are Gen Xers. We take it slowly, but it’s all a matter of having the two generations understand their own skill sets, shortcomings, and attitudes, and which of these complements those of the younger generation.

To learn more about DDI’s research into performance management, check out our findings in the GLF 2018.

Talk to an Expert: Development Discussion are Key to Philippines Airlines' Success
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