Terri Morrissey and Dr Richard Plenty provide their thoughts on: Cutting bureaucracy by empowering people.


An international airport can be an exciting place to work with lots of variety and the knowledge that connecting people and places is a ‘grand endeavour’ and one to be proud of.

Why is it then that the results of ACI Europe’s AirPeople employee survey show that airport staff rate their working environment a little less favourably than those in other sectors?

Bureaucracy is the major cause of their frustration and concern. Airport staff are generally very positive about their industry and their employers but dislike the slow convoluted decision-making and inefficient work organisation that they experience.

Perhaps this should not surprise us. Many airports are, or have recently been, state owned entities which are rarely stellar examples of efficiency and effectiveness.

The industry is also heavily regulated with a strong safety culture, which means that formal procedures are rightly required in many safety-critical areas. 

Bureaucracy is not the same as necessary procedures. Many bureaucratic procedures develop over time from well-intentioned efforts to standardise and simplify highly complex processes. Quite often these “grow legs”, get added to and outgrow their usefulness. 

Steps are continually added to try to cater for all eventualities. These are rarely updated or dropped as time and technology move on. Unnecessary meetings and slow decision-making result.

People can hide behind the rules and a bureaucratic mindset can set in. Commonly heard phrases such as “I can’t do that unless it’s in writing”, “I’ll have to wait to ask my manager”, and “that’s not my job”, are used to avoid taking responsibility. This does little to help customer focus, innovation, effectiveness, or speedy response.

‘Good intentions’ should not be an excuse for burdening those parts of the business, which need agility, flexibility and the ability to respond rapidly to changing circumstances. 

Encouraging and developing a mindset of initiative taking and proactivity can lead to better results, lower costs and help build a more entrepreneurial organisation. 

Allowing people to think for themselves and have the courage to take decisions can bring about a more engaged and committed workforce.

This can be helped along by:

  • Ensuring that people understand the overall vision and direction of the company and the role they play
  • Freeing people up to do their jobs so they have the authority, responsibility and skills, without the necessity for constant supervision and control
  • Encouraging people to work together and across boundaries to continuously simplify and improve processes and get rid of redundant practices


People who feel that they have some control over their work are more likely to be positive about their organisations, express higher levels of engagement and perform to higher standards.

About the authors

Terri Morrissey and Dr Richard Plenty are organisers of ACI’s annual Leadership and Change Summit, which this year will be part of Airport Exchange in Istanbul, December 8-10. They can be contacted at

Article originally published in Airport World Magazine November 19, 2015.

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Dr. Richard Plenty
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Terri Morrissey
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