The first part of the behind closed doors three-part documentary on British Airways aired last night (2nd June). HR geek that I am, I was fascinated by the training provided for new recruits.
Each year the company whittles down a list of hopefuls from around 8000 to 800. Anyone breathing a sigh of relief at that point is rather premature because then comes the rigorous training programme. Every possible aspect is covered in training from the way to deal with a non-English speaking passenger (tip – it’s not pretending to speak their language!) to managing difficult situations such as a passenger dying mid-flight.
What really interested me was the consequence factor. British Airways pride themselves on being the best and it shows in every aspect of their training. There are lots of lessons that a smaller business with the same desire to be the best can take away from their approach.
From the first day, the trainers spell out the rules and the consequences of breaking the rules or not keeping up with the demands of training. Harsh it may be but no one in the room can use the “you didn’t tell me that” whine so often heard when an employee breaks a rule and wants to wriggle out of it.
If you want excellence, demand it
British Airways do not put up with mediocrity. Trainees are not praised or rewarded for doing what they should be doing. They receive praise when they have really carried out an excellent training exercise or answered a question really well. They learn to prize excellence when it is prized by the organisation.
The consequence of getting something wrong or breaking a rule during training is a “snapshot” – this written warning is issued to a trainee and goes on their record. On the fourth snapshot, they’re off the training programme. It was very obvious on last night’s programme that this is no empty threat. One of the trainees was ousted on his fourth snapshot, issued for being 2 minutes late to a training session. Another trainee was seen to moan about how unfair it was. Harsh perhaps but as the trainers said right at the beginning of the training, punctuality is key. If a British Airways employee arrives late at work, there is no option to hold the plane or keep passengers waiting.
I think that you can apply these points to any company. As an example, if you expect your staff to dress professionally, tell them clearly what you expect of them, tell them why, live the policy yourself by always dressing the way you want them to and most of all, follow through on the consequences if anyone steps out of line. It will only take one employee being sent home without pay to change their attire for everyone else to realise that you mean business.
In short, if you want a culture of excellence in your business then you must explain it, demonstrate it and prize it. Any behaviour that is not in line with your culture of excellence should be dealt with accordingly.