Unleashing the power of the 50,000:

The story behind
‘I Am Toronto Pearson’

Just as the ‘I Am Toronto Pearson’ movement aims to inspire and influence the staff and management at Canada’s largest airport, so too does it run like a thread through this special report. Everybody we spoke to for this Spotlight eZine, whether representing Toronto Pearson or one of its partners, and across all levels of organisation, highlighted the movement as a contributing factor to how the airport and its people work today. At its heart, ‘I Am Toronto Pearson’ is an airport community of employees helping passengers and peers in its drive to be recognised as the best airport in the world, led by one key question: ‘How can I help?’.

For the 50,000 employees, it’s a way of recognising what they do every day for travellers, going beyond what the job description requires to a fully human-centred view of the guest.

Vice President Commercial and Terminal Operations Scott Collier, who helped to bring the movement to life with global design firm IDEO and communications partner 16x9 Agency, says: “When we began ‘I am Toronto Pearson’ it was centred around the notion of engaging the 400+ companies that operate at Pearson more collaboratively.

“It was about unleashing the power of the 50,000 towards a common vision: Best Airport in the World.

“We assumed it would be a challenge transmitting the message to the hundreds of companies and their 50,000 staff. In fact, internally it proved to be much more difficult. The GTAA, as the airport authority, wasn’t quite ready to give up control.

“We said it wasn’t about the Authority giving up control but better leveraging our position as the airport integrator to empower staff to think about the airport differently; to be part of a journey bigger than themselves. On this score we have made progress but the journey continues.

“By contrast the front line people loved it; they had responsibility and control and were empowered. Every other airport we spoke to was all about driving top down behaviours through training programmes and so on. We had been there, done that. It was time to try something different.

‘I Am Toronto Pearson’: A movement captured in video

“We discovered that the movement-based approach was extraordinarily well received. The folks who work across the 400+ companies have a hand in the creation of their airport. It wasn’t about management or unions, how much money you made or what your role at the airport was. It was about people, about collaboration, about the passenger and how you could help! Pretty simple, quite compelling, big impact.”

It all began with a simple finding: that employees were heavily invested and emotionally connected to Toronto Pearson.

Collier says: “We leaned heavily on our commercial partners at SSP, Dufry, Paradies, HMSHost, OTG and others. At an early stage and as part of a prototyping session, we met with ten staff from each company and asked them to share their stories about the airport. All of them had their own reasons for working here and shared amazing stories about their connections to the airport.

“We shared with these staff that we had this crazy new vision to become the best airport in the world. We asked them pointedly if they thought we were crazy? Are we going to embarrass ourselves? Should we think smaller? The answer was a resounding no…one woman spoke with incredible candour and conviction: ‘Yes we can, and don’t you dare let us down!’. It was right then that we knew we were on to something.

Kurush Minocher: “If we take care of our staff, they’ll take care of our passengers”

“After we had spoken to them all, we brought in the CEOs of their companies at a separate meeting. The staff explained to the CEOs what they were doing and what our new shared vision was. It began with those 60 followers. Today, we have over 25,000 members.”

Today the movement is led by Director, Passenger Experience and Development Kurush Minocher.

“We want everyone to buy in”: To date, 25,000 staff across the airport company, partners and agencies have joined a movement that puts the guest first

He says: “At the most basic level, ‘I Am Toronto Pearson’ is a big vision to rally around. Becoming the best airport in the world speaks for itself and everyone can connect to that. We have to ensure it stays relevant and front of mind, helping to remind staff that this is a great place to work, and giving them a forum to share their stories and celebrate their successes. If we take care of our staff, they’ll take care of our passengers.”

The current membership of 25,000 leaves more than half of airport staff yet to join, but Minocher says: “We are confident that membership will grow. We want everyone to buy in. ‘I Am Toronto Pearson’ means something different to everyone here.

"Our vision is to be the best airport in the world; our common emotion is pride and our common behaviour is helpfulness.

“The focus now is on building the brand familiarity so it sticks with people. We have been able to measure that. Those who know it well and are involved in ‘I am Toronto Pearson’ are twice as engaged as the typical employee. Now it’s about different tactics to keep the level of engagement up and reinforce the pride people take in working here.”

That means the movement must also evolve, and it is doing so, he says.

“This year, learning from the past, we are trying to be nimble and understand where we can go deeper with certain partners – and the commercial partners in particular have really embraced this.

“We have found that the quickest way to get the message out is around rewards and recognition, but in a way that complements what our partners do already. By having these ambassadors you create recognition of the brand, you get more engagement, you get more interest in being part of it. Our staff can see colleagues’ faces on a billboard or screen throughout the airport and all of that reinforces the emotive message and passion.”

Crucially, the power of the movement has helped build Pearson’s consumer reputation and unleashed the potential of the business too. From 2014 to 2018, Pearson’s ASQ score overall climbed from 4.06 to 4.45. Importantly, the measure for ‘Courtesy and Helpfulness' within ASQ has risen steadily and in line with the overall ranking, from 4.13 in 2014 to 4.49 in 2018.

“There is a direct correlation between our ASQ results at global level and our helpfulness ratings,” says Collier. “We can see clearly the link between celebrating our people publicly, and how passengers feel their passion.”

Toronto Pearson’s Airport Service Quality scores have risen sharply as the movement has taken root

Plotting the movement

‘I Am Toronto Pearson’ co-authors, global design firm IDEO (through IDEO Partner Owen Rogers) and 16x9 Agency (through President & CEO Kevin Yates) reflect on the movement’s impact and how a vital insight unlocked a new way of working.

Rogers says: “We discovered that everyone who works there has their own story and motivation for working at the airport, and they all really want to work there. That is irrespective of their role or wage. That was illuminating. It was such a powerful insight and everything else is built around that.

“There are so many interesting facets of this movement that revolve around people, processes, the local, the global. To take 50,000 people on a journey is daunting, but to take it one person at a time, and think about how they can make someone else’s travel day better, is simpler but also very powerful.”

It's important to remember that this is not a slogan, but an evolving movement.

“It’s in the service of being the best; all the little things that people do are cumulative,” says Rogers. “Of course it doesn’t get over wage problems or working conditions if these need addressing. But our early workshops got people thinking and confirmed why they should take pride in doing a job at the airport rather than anywhere else. Over time you get a rise in standards, and the business benefits.

“You can argue about whether Toronto is the best airport in the world, but what being the best or ‘passengers are our passion’ gives Pearson is the language to articulate where it wants to go.”

Yates says: “Beyond the people and cultural benefits, ‘I Am Toronto Pearson’ has driven a larger purpose that has benefited the entire enterprise. That has come through changing the mindset of not only how members think and feel about Toronto Pearson but especially how they behave to ensure a more helpful mindset for passengers, partners and colleagues.”

So how does a movement remain relevant as the organisation evolves?

“It has always been about storytelling,” says Yates. “It uses the power of storytelling to highlight the pride of the 50,000 staff and to tap into their emotion to be a part of something larger then themselves and their job. In fact it is crucial to have them be active contributors in building the best airport in the world.

“We must continue to share these stories, and develop innovative and dynamic content that remains relevant to our members and that continues to inspire them.

“The front line people loved it; they had responsibility and control and were empowered”

“We were careful to ensure we designed the movement to be authentic and true to providing a voice for the 50,000. But as we evolve, we have begun launching new and creative ways to share our purpose and inspire not only the employees but also the passengers.”

He adds: “This year we are starting to use it as a trust mark of Pearson’s aspiration to be the best and to underline the ‘passengers are our passion’ message. Some of the brand style is being adopted and associated that reinforces these messages to the employees and now says to passengers ‘we are committed, we are engaged’. But we need to do that in a way that is authentic. It’s about the staff, not the management. So you’ll see more content in the passenger-facing environments in arrivals and departures.

“From the first handful of employees we engaged to 25,000, we have always envisioned that the staff of Toronto Pearson are the heroes. We have told their stories and are now incorporating those stories into a broader context.

“We recently did some work for CATSA that was outside our scope for ‘I Am Toronto Pearson’. In doing so we were able to garner synergies that could not only deliver a dynamic safety message but do so using an ‘I Am Toronto Pearson’ CATSA Ambassador in the actual creative campaign.”

Other airports have asked the agencies to help them adopt similar programmes, but it’s not that simple, says Yates.

“Executing a programme like this requires cross-enterprise support and commitment to a multi-year investment to drive the results Toronto Pearson has enjoyed.”

For Rogers, one crucial in-built element can keep ‘I Am Toronto Pearson’ relevant for much longer. “It’s not an easy thing for business leaders to get their head around – there is no beginning, middle or end, but actually it is a continuous journey. If you are a leader looking at a three-month ROI on a project, then don’t do this.”

More than that, the process Pearson began five years ago has not only changed an organisation, it might just change the industry, says Rogers.

“They have taken a very different approach to the contract model and the tangled web the airport industry has woven for itself. And it needs a brave board to say we’ll take a promise of potential reward tomorrow against a guarantee today. But now they have proof.

“Each one of the leadership team feared being judged on their pledge to be the best airport in the world. But now they are the first airport to do many things, and have a level of confidence that they can tell a great story, and the tools, people and partnerships to take the next steps. Without those proofs, nobody would sign up for the next stage of the journey.”

Working together for a common good: Voices from across the airport environment on ‘I Am Toronto Pearson’ (short version video)

Voices of ‘I Am Toronto Pearson’

Retiring CEO Howard Eng: “The ‘I Am Toronto Pearson’ programme allows us to bring our partners along on the journey. Rather than mandating a traditional customer service training programme, this is a movement to activate the passion of those that make Toronto Pearson their workplace and demonstrate the personal accountability that each person has to help passengers in the airport environment.”

Director, Passenger Experience and Development Kurush Minocher: “We have to ensure ‘I Am Toronto Pearson’ stays relevant and front of mind, helping to remind staff that this is a great place to work but not just that, rewarding and celebrating their successes. If we take care of our staff, they’ll take care of our passengers.”

Director, Long Range Strategy Mike Ross: “‘I Am Toronto Pearson’ reinforces a positive message and its success is clearly aligned with business results.”

Senior Manager, Retail Operations and Performance Suzanne Merrell: “The partners were our heroes from the start. SSP, HMSHost, OTG, Dufry/Hudson and Paradies Lagardère were at the table right away and the strongest ambassadors we could have. The buy-in at CEO level from these partners has been unmatched. They have been committed every step of the way and answered the call every time.”

Director, Customer and Agency Development Janik Reigate: “With the agencies it has been a real win and ‘I Am Toronto Pearson’ is a part of the relationship building. We won’t ever ask an agency to compromise their mandate but they can play their role in a way that embraces that vision of the airport and in a way that recognises they are part of something bigger. It is meaningful to those agencies and the people who work in them. They are proud to work here at the airport as well as for their own employer.”

16x9 Agency President and CEO Kevin Yates: “Success has come from focusing the organisation on being passenger-centric. To shift the organisational mindset to making passengers our passion and to ensure a more human, more helpful approach has changed the way Toronto Pearson does business.”

Spotlight Series - January 2020

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