Fostering openness and empowerment: flyadeal's recipe for employee collaboration and innovation
Learn how this approach has been instrumental in overcoming unprecedented challenges and achieving excellence in the aviation industry.
In the world of aviation, exceptional leadership and innovation are vital components that drive success.
Hanan Badri, the Chief People Officer of flyadeal, is a trailblazing airline executive that has achieved remarkable milestones in the Middle East's aviation industry. Her background in psychology and sociology has brought a unique perspective to the organisation, enabling it to thrive even in the face of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under Badri’s leadership, flyadeal experienced incredible growth and garnered prestigious accolades, such as the Executive of the Year - Airline award at the Middle East Management Excellence Awards.
In this article, Badri shares insights into her role as flyadeal's Chief People Officer, the airline's strategic response to the pandemic, the importance of diversity and inclusion, and the motivation derived from their recent award win.
Tell us about your role as flyadeal’s Chief People Officer and your career path. How does your unique insights and exceptional leadership enable strong performance for the company?
This role is fundamental in any organisation responsible for overseeing Human Resources which covers the welfare of all employees, hiring, managing, and retaining talent. Strategic direction, developing and implementing employee policies, and – most of all – fostering a culture of excellence and a strong company-wide culture are vital elements of the job. I’ve been fortunate enough to have followed a structured career path in HR that has helped me develop as an individual, always learning from others with great experiences gained in multi-national companies across three highly regulated industries of banking, retail, and medical insurance.
Having grown up in the aviation industry, where my father worked for the national airline Saudia, travel has been in my blood since my early years, so I’ve had a head start understanding an industry that is also highly regulated. Being part of companies and industries embracing change and innovation, I looked at aviation through flyadeal being a young airline—part of the well-established Saudia Group—as ambitious, which just fitted the bill and ticked all the boxes for me.
At flyadeal, we promote a culture of openness and empowerment, encouraging employees to brainstorm, collaborate, and share ideas. It is very much part of flyadeal’s DNA that helps drive greater efficiency in the workplace. Exposing employees to different sides of the business and encouraging lateral and cross-departmental moves help make them well-grounded and improve overall performance and service delivery with internal and external stakeholders. In addition, our individual development plan enables employees to be mentored by experienced individuals within the organisation for on-the-job insights, which is a great learning tool for any HR department to develop.
With how the aviation industry has been recovering from the impacts of the pandemic, how do you aim to continue or follow through on the initiatives or solutions you have thought of and implemented?
Our industry was severely impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic with a massive drop in demand for air travel resulting in significant financial losses for airlines worldwide. Travel restrictions, border closures, and lockdowns imposed by many countries to control the spread of the virus further impacted the industry. The crisis led to unprecedented challenges, including employee layoffs, route cancellations, and fleet reductions. However, flyadeal experienced remarkable growth during the adversity that the pandemic presented. We remained agile.
Our international operations only launched in 2021, so we had passed the height of the pandemic. Whilst airlines worldwide had to suspend international flights because of border closures, for us, domestic travel demand in Saudi Arabia surged. This allowed flyadeal to continue “business as normal” with no job lay-offs during or after the pandemic. We continued to focus on our employees providing online learning tools when offices were closed, and people worked from home. Learning tools play a key role in building knowledge. We kept staff motivated, encouraging them to share ideas, brainstorm and work together. Often, in companies, people work in silos. Our approach was to build camaraderie and create an environment of togetherness that also helps drive greater efficiencies in the workplace.
In your opinion, why is it important for companies to have a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion and how do you foster this kind of work environment for flyadeal employees?
Diversity is important as it provides experiences for employees from different backgrounds and cultures to learn from one another for personal and professional development. It is becoming more and more relevant in the global marketplace and, indeed, in Saudi Arabia, due to its reforms and dynamic economic transformation projects that are well underway. A diverse workforce provides wider perspectives and more creative and innovative solutions to business challenges. Diversity brings with it engagement, discussion, and approaching problems with different angles and solutions that have proven to increase productivity and create an overall better work environment.
For a company like flyadeal, which is increasing its international footprint with a diverse network of destinations in the Kingdom, Middle East, Europe, and South Asia over the next few years, having a more diverse workforce is a priority given that our customer base will be bigger. Keeping an employee engaged, happy, and content can be challenging because there are different personalities, individuals from different walks of life, cultural backgrounds, and in the case of flyadeal, representing over 30 nationalities. We treat everyone as one big family but no one size fits them all. When we established our values, which include fun attitudes and positive behaviours, we always strived to look for the best in people. When hiring, we assess the value they can bring to the flyadeal team. We foster a culture of inclusion that in turn creates open and respectful communications and a welcoming environment for all.
We’ve been attracting more women in the workforce, with over 40 percent of employees being female. We were, for example, the first airline in Saudi Arabia to have female Saudi cadet pilots and the first in the Kingdom to operate a flight with an all-female crew. By talking about and promoting these stories, flyadeal employees become company ambassadors, and we become a talking point as a place of opportunity. A win, win, situation for all.
What are your thoughts on winning the Middle East Management Excellence Awards?
It’s a great honour and privilege to be acknowledged for my work, but more importantly for my team who are supportive when carrying out their roles with diligence and commitment. As an airline that is growing at a phenomenal rate with great expansion plans, it’s the team that gels, finding and bringing talent, and creating and implementing new processes to build a better flyadeal. I am also delighted to be in the company of fellow recipients of these esteemed awards, so congratulations go out to all of them.
How will this success motivate you and your company for the future?
It’s always nice for individuals and the company to receive awards. But as I said, it’s people collectively who make a company tick, not individuals. It sounds like a familiar message, but I truly believe in this. Talking about accolades is a feel-good factor and word-of-mouth generates interest amongst talent keen on moving to an airline or wanting to join the airline industry for the first time. Current and future employees therefore have a great opportunity to make their mark in one of Saudi Arabia’s most attractive and dynamic industries to work in. The positive future of my industry and my country is the biggest motivation I have. Whenever I meet jobseekers, I always say to follow your passion, work hard, and strive to excel to greater heights — whether with the same company or not. At flyadeal, we promise plenty of opportunities given that we are in continued growth mode.