Is company culture really important and worth the investment? If you have any doubts, I hope that this blog dispels them as I share here how the strength of our company culture has helped our employees to navigate the sudden challenges and changes thrown up by COVID-19.
The outstanding efforts of our people during the pandemic – which I will come to shortly - are a result of a journey that we started in 2016.
The need for business change
Four years ago, with our then newly appointed CEO, Barbara Dalibard, we reassessed the direction of our business.
How do we re-align our business to stay relevant in a changing market? Which markets do we focus on? How do we get the better of our growing competition? How do we speed up innovation and get our products out to customers quicker?
We agreed radical change was needed to steer and grow the business. But, one of the most important challenges facing us was: how do we get our 4,700 employees in 126 countries to (a) buy into our refocused vision of the future and (b) change their ways of working to support our ambitions?
An employee-led culture shift
It was our employees who guided us through this challenge; our employee feedback mechanisms and forums painted a clear picture of life at SITA reinforcing it was the right time for a culture shift.
The pros of life at SITA then (and now) included: the willingness to go that extra mile, a customer-first mindset and pride in working for a world leading company in air transport communications and IT.
The things we needed to improve (what we’ve been addressing over the past 4 years) were: we lacked agility, collaboration was an issue at times due to competing priorities, there were skill gaps as well as process complexity and duplication of work.
This rich feedback outlined four key cultural traits that we wanted our employees to embody to support our refocused ambitions. These traits actually became the company values we live by today: Keep it simple, Step for the customer, Be our best, Do it together.
Embedding our values and culture
To instill these company values, we’ve initiated several complementing programs over the last few years.
One recent example to support “be our best” and accelerate a learning culture has been our investment in a new learning platform. It’s given our employees access to thousands of courses, specialisms and even degrees. In 2019, our people clocked up an average of 53 learning hours! Computer Science (44%), Business (41%) and Data Science (15%) were some of the popular courses our employees have honed their skills in.
This year, we’re building deeper expertise for key professions, plus a broader focus on digital, cognitive, and interpersonal skills. We’ve also focused on building resilience across our teams to help our employees during the pandemic.
And, to develop our key leaders, who we count on to role model our values and drive our business success, we invested in an executive education program. At its core, the program empowers leaders to take risks, push the boundaries and learn from mistakes. We believe in leaders building leaders and expect our leaders to drive this into our organization also – to motivate, support and trust our teams to take risks and learn from their mistakes.
For our business, we’re keen to encourage this growth mindset and foster the right environment for innovation to happen. We plan to roll out a similar program to all management layers soon.
The positive impact of programs like these are reflected in our global employee survey results: our sustainable engagement index – which measures how connected employees feel to the company – has improved by 8% over three years (from 78% to 86%) and is well above the benchmark for high tech companies. We’ve also improved in areas like development by 9% year on year, and I’m particularly proud of our Diversity and Inclusion score – at 84% - again above the high tech company norm.
Our strong company culture has shone through COVID-19
What I’m most proud of is seeing our company culture shining through, in the actions of our people during the global COVID-19 crisis.
Like many companies during the pandemic, our teams have done an amazing job in adapting to working from home and adopting new ways to collaborate with one another using virtual tools and technologies.
Our colleagues have stepped up to support our airline and airport customers across the world through the pandemic – when airports have had to shut down, when airlines grounded their fleets, during repatriation efforts and, now as airports and airlines resume more activity.
They’ve had to quickly adapt our product portfolio to meet the changing needs of customers and deliver a safe and efficient passenger journey. The speed, resilience and ingenuity of our people to support the recovery of the air transport industry during these times has been impressive.
Our transformation journey has not ended. Real cultural transformation takes time, but we’ve made good progress so far.
The past four years have demonstrated that if you invest in your people and create the right culture, you can achieve much more than just delivering on your business targets in normal times.