AirAsia India: Spotting An Opportunity In A Crisis 0

Anjali-Chatterjee-Head--People-and-Culture,-Air-Asia-India

The COVID-19 crisis had a significant impact on business and its people. AirAsia India realised that they needed to quickly adapt to the changes which the pandemic had brought in. The article discusses several measures and behaviours which helped leaders at AirAsia to navigate the pandemic and recovery.

Lockdowns and gradual easing of restrictions last year have pounded the airline industry globally. An ICRA report reveals that in FY21, India’s domestic passenger traffic slipped to a 10-year low. This had an inadvertent impact on the jobs in the sector which includes airlines, airports, ground handling agencies, and cargo operators. Money Control reports that between March 31, 2020, and July 31, 2020, 18,027 jobs were lost in the aviation sector, as shared by civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri in Rajya Sabha in September 2020.

However, AirAsia India, a joint venture of Tata Sons and Malaysia’s AirAsia Investments, managed to keep the jobs despite the fact that the sector was bleeding last year. While the senior management decided to take pay cuts, the airline decided not to levy the same on any staff member earning less than Rs 50,000 per month. In fact, the organisation undertook several measures to keep the employees engaged and productive during the lockdowns as 90% of the employees were in operations.

All Things Talent spoke to Anjali Chatterjee, Head – People and Culture, AirAsia India to understand how the airline navigated tough times last year and how they look forward to making it an aspirational place for job seekers.

Adapting to COVID-19 Challenges

When the first nationwide lockdown hit in March 2020, AirAsia India realised that they needed to quickly adapt to the changes which the pandemic had brought in. Most of the employees are in operations i.e. pilot, cabin crew, ground services, and others. They don’t carry laptops and use only mobiles. Engaging with them continuously was the need of the hour. They used this time for learning and development and reskilling people along with engaging with them during the lockdown with a focus on health & wellness.

“We created clusters of Allstars – that’s what we call our employees, led by a Cluster Head and further supervised by cluster managers. We made sure every Allstar was connected every morning. On a daily basis, they would connect with the team, chalk out a plan for the day and at the end of the day, every employee filled a google sheet about the number of hours clocked in learning and engagement. This data helped us understand how many people were learning something new and how many of them had been engaged in a positive way,” Chatterjee shares.

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Cluster Story

The clusters created were based on the location and department of the employees and grouped 20-25 employees in one cluster with a manager overseeing them and reporting to the Cluster Head. Every morning, the cluster manager would connect with the 25 people on video calls and plan the day in terms of learning programs and other courses in mind. When operations started again, we had the employees connecting with the managers at the airports. The clusters were largely homogeneous.

Apart from that, live sessions with leaders, one-on-one coffee conversations with senior leadership across departments, wealth and wellness initiatives, and also loads of Zoom parties were organised. The organisation has traction metrics to see how the engagement has been received by our employees and these get reviewed every day.

Apart from that, live sessions with leaders, one-on-one coffee conversations with senior leadership across departments, wealth and wellness initiatives, and also loads of Zoom parties were organised. The organisation has traction metrics to see how the engagement has been received by our employees and these get reviewed every day.

“Our intra-communication platform Workchat along with our chatbox AskHR go a long way in engaging with and helping our Allstars with their queries. Coffee With Sunil – where employees from the grassroots level have one-on-one sessions with Sunil, our CEO & MD. It’s an hour-long conversation and very free-flowing, but the important part is that while the employees are highly motivated to meet our CEO, he also learns a lot through these interactions,” Chatterjee explains.

The Chief Medical Officer interacted with everyone on engagement platform Facebook for business through video sessions where awareness was raised on COVID care.

Shifting to Mobile Learning

The fact that AirAsia has a very young and vibrant workforce, adapting to mobile learning was swift. One interesting initiative created here was peer-to-peer learning. Certified AirAsia internal trainers called C.A.T. ‘s (Certified Airasia Trainers) was launched. It developed a pool of internal trainers consisting of cabin crew, ground operations engineers, who volunteered. This group of people went through a rigorous train-the-trainer process and conducted virtual training and workshops regularly including live discussions, brainstorming sessions, etc. Nearly 2000 of the existing 3000 employees connected through the trainers and received knowledge. It created a very positive outcome. “The peer-to-peer process is the best practice in the TATA group as well. We picked up this idea from the Taj Group and adapted it to our needs. It has now become a standard process,” Chatterjee informs.

Furthermore, in aviation, I would like to see more women pilots. I would like to see diverse talent across departments and that’s what I am going to work on. Being digital savvy is important as understanding data analytics has become pivotal. Going forward, technology will take over. Cultural and emotional intelligence would become a priority.

No Gig or Passion but Skill Economy

Chatterjee will call it a skill-based economy rather than a gig or passion economy. Passion is not enough, skills are imperative. It has nothing to do with which college one has studied in. It is completely based on skills like robotics, analytics, communication, etc. Going forward, the days of hiring from just business schools and engineering and other colleges will go away. Skills will matter the most, especially in the digital space. “Furthermore, in aviation, I would like to see more women pilots. I would like to see diverse talent across departments and that’s what I am going to work on. Being digital savvy is important as understanding data analytics has become pivotal. Going forward, technology will take over. Cultural and emotional intelligence would become a priority,” predicts Chatterjee.

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Top Upskilling Initiatives Taken Up

Apart from technical learning, it was also about customer eccentricity. Air Asia India tracks Net Promoter Score(NPS) closely on a regular basis and observes some key areas emerging. The CATS programme started with customer eccentricity. The team used real videos to come up with content to dictate the course of action during these learning programs. They started this in May 2020 with the first batch and saw a remarkable improvement in NPS. We also developed our own competency framework and looked at TATA’s model of competencies for research. “There are also top-level business competencies like tech-savvy, business acumen, data science, etc. As we went up the ladder, we also concentrated on managerial and leadership skills because many of our frontline managers had grown up in the ranks. We collate weekly insights,” Chatterjee reveals.

Chatterjee sums it up by saying that digitising everything with a human touch is the future of business.

– As Told To Bruhadesswaran R and Moumita Bhattacharjee

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Anjali Chatterjee, heads the People and Culture Department at AirAsia India. She is a Global Talent Management and Development professional with over three decades of experience across Hospitality, Service, Manufacturing and Telecom. She has earlier worked in companies like Tata Communications, LG Electronics, Jet Airways.

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