Transforming Terminal 2
As People Lead for the new Heathrow Terminal 2, I oversaw a huge cultural transformation project. The experience was a formative one, shaping my approach to developing strong leaders, motivating teams and driving individuals to achieve results they never thought possible. Here’s the story of that journey.
It takes thousands of people to get passengers through an airport terminal, onto a plane and into the air. To make this happen, these colleagues need to work well together in an environment where they feel motivated and supported. Establishing this environment became a critical part of my mission when I took the role of People Lead for Heathrow Terminal 2.
The old Terminal had closed in 2009 with a total rebuild to take place by 2014 - a massive £2.5billion investment for Heathrow. Heathrow’s purpose is to make every journey better and so as well as creating a new Terminal, there was an opportunity to overhaul the way the operation would be run and create a blueprint for a supportive internal culture and excellent customer service across all its terminals. So the spotlight was shining on us…
Re-writing the rulebook
First, we had to recruit a brand new workforce of over 600 people. This involved establishing processes to ensure we had a team who wanted to work at the new, revitalised Terminal 2 and understood what this meant. The induction and training programme was redesigned and became an extensive, engaging resource for all new joiners. As part of the new induction, every recruit, from security officers and terminal duty managers, through to senior directors, had to go through a terminal as if they were a passenger. Putting staff in the passenger’s shoes showed them how their own role made a difference to the passenger’s entire experience.
The importance of motivating colleagues
Of course, we wanted to achieve high levels of staff retention and engagement, so we began by defining what motivates employees, turning the lens fully on them. From here, we took important steps such as reducing team sizes, ensuring each member of operational staff had a consistent, identifiable line manager and that every single employee was fully aware of their role as an important member of Terminal 2.
We introduced a new performance development programme, regular one-to-one catch-ups and weekly team meetings for all staff to bring better communication. Maintaining such a significant level of briefing time is a big investment but it was vital for employee motivation and has paid off.
Building strong teams
Creating a strong team ethos, with everyone supporting each other, was a key part of our vision. By establishing trust among teams we helped ensure that strong relationships would be in place for any high-pressure situations (which inevitably occur at airports). We ran a senior leadership team development programme over the course of 18 months, with weekly meetings and monthly off-sites. The development involved one-to-one coaching, leadership development and team workshops.
Looking for leaders
To create smaller, stronger teams we revised the leadership structure from top to bottom. Half of our new line managers were internal hires, often promoted from other roles in the business. By giving these individuals leadership responsibility, we empowered them, helping to build their confidence in their own abilities.
I led the development of “Leadership Bootcamps” for nearly 100 leaders, including service managers, duty managers, heads of operations and compliance managers. These sessions mixed practice and theory to help the new leaders inspire and engage their teams. Key themes included leadership style, personal purpose, trust and team effectiveness.
The foundation for excellent customer service
By the middle of 2014 we had successfully realised our mission of building a high performing team to deliver an exceptional passenger experience and consistent operational excellence. Our employees were motivated, confident and looking forward to putting their new skills into action at the opening of the new Terminal 2. The results are impressive and the terminal can be held up throughout Heathrow as exemplary in its service, leadership and working culture.
One year from opening:
Terminal 2 was rated best performing terminal in Europe in Q2 2015 Airport Service Quality (ASQ)
92% of Terminal 2 colleagues agree that their team is helping make every journey better
- Terminal 2 security is third best in Europe for service, as measured through Airport Service Quality (ASQ)
This was an incredible journey for me personally and crystallised my belief that by guiding people to find their personal aspirations and encouraging them to enter a learning zone within a supportive environment, you create a successful, motivated and engaged working culture, which shines through in the customer service and success of the entire business.