In the process- and technology-driven world of visa applications, it might seem odd to put the focus on “soft” assets such as people and culture. The truth is, they are what allows us to make a real difference in both customer care and in delivering quality and consistency to our government clients every day.
As we previously outlined, day-to-day interactions with applicants matter in the visa processing world. They make the process smoother and give future travellers a positive image of their destination country. But what matters just as much is what happens behind the scenes. Our staff must be thorough when processing every single visa application, to enable our government clients to then review applications quickly and efficiently. That is an essential part of ensuring travellers get the best possible experience from the very beginning of their journey. It means aiming for operational excellence at all times. And that cannot happen without the active involvement of our teams.
Creating the Right Culture for Operational Excellence
Operational excellence is a critical strategic objective for us. But reaching that objective is not possible without the right culture. As the famous management consultant Peter Drucker remarked, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”: whenever strategy and organisational culture are not aligned, it is impossible to implement strategy effectively. “Employees must be willing and able to unleash their individual and collective human genius to support the company purpose and strategy, and this can only happen in a culture perfectly aligned with both,” as former chairman and CEO of Best Buy and senior lecturer at Harvard Business School Hubert Joly argues in a recent article. Which is why we have directed our efforts at creating a culture of empowerment where our employees are able and willing to act to make operational excellence a reality at every level.
Employee Satisfaction: The Key to High Performance
Promoting this kind of culture has a clear impact on employee satisfaction and that, in turn, impacts operational performance. In 2022, TLScontact achieved Great Place To Work® certification in 34 countries, representing 80% of our workforce. This is a marked improvement from the total of 22 countries where we obtained that certification in 2021. Of course, high employee satisfaction makes us proud, but there is more than pride involved: according to Gallup, a global consultancy, employee engagement has a very tangible impact on businesses. For example, highly engaged business units realise an 81% difference in absenteeism, a 14% difference in productivity and a 10% difference in customer ratings.
We have repeatedly witnessed the results of this focus on our teams and our culture of empowerment in recent crises, whether they affected only TLScontact or the whole world:
- Nearly two years ago, our visa centre in Beirut caught fire on a Sunday morning. The fire was put out very quickly, but it was clear our centre was not going to be able to resume operations right away. Our team rose to the challenge, working around the clock for two days to transfer the operations to temporary premises in a nearby hotel with all the necessary security protocols in place to ensure confidentiality. Less than four days after the opening of that temporary centre, the damaged visa centre was refurbished, re-equipped, and ready to open.
- When the Ukraine war broke out, there was a sudden inflow of refugees fleeing the conflict and seeking asylum. Representing UK Visas & Immigration across Europe, we had to increase our capacity almost overnight to deal with a sudden surge of visa applications, from fewer than 200 per month in certain locations to several thousand per week. Our teams worked relentlessly during the first few weeks to process applications and to provide support and guidance to the Ukrainian nationals arriving at our centres. But they did not stop there: many were at the same time looking for new ways of working to process applications faster while respecting security protocols and confidentiality. Needless to say, this was not part of any strategic plan: it was the result of our culture of empowerment and care.
The Day-to-day Benefits of Employee Empowerment
Empowered teams are not only able to better respond to emergencies. They are also actively involved in making sure our operations run as smoothly and as securely as possible, which in itself is a daily endeavour. Due to the highly sensitive nature of processing visa applications, procedures and safeguards abound. But however strict and secure these may be, at the end of the day, it is the sheer commitment of our teams that make or break our service.
Take data quality, for example. It is an essential component of the service we provide to our government clients. Since they are the ones who have to decide whether or not a visa will be granted, the quality of every application file is critical for their work. That quality is the result of both technological and human factors. On the one hand, smart digitisation makes the whole data collection process easier, but our teams also play a critical role in ensuring that the data included in every application is complete, valid and legible, a precondition for its smooth processing.
The same reasoning applies to issues such as cybersecurity: study after study confirms that the “human firewall” is essential. Nowadays, more than 90% of successful hacks and data breaches start with phishing scams. To effectively face these threats, awareness training is not enough: unless employees are fully and deeply committed, the risk is high that they overlook the clues that might give away a suspicious message or request, especially since hackers are always refining their techniques.
Why People Matter Most
By putting people first and focusing on real empowerment, companies can create the necessary conditions to deliver outstanding performance and this is certainly what we are striving to do at TLScontact. With the right processes in place, but also empowered, committed teams, we are able to ensure the best possible service for our visa applicants and our government clients.
Article written by
Gabriele Piva, Chief Operating Officer