Given that the pandemic has pressed the pause button on the entire travel sector, you might think morale among the State agency’s staff is on the floor.
You’d be wrong. According to Paul Kelly, chief executive of Fáilte Ireland and winner of this year’s Great Place to Work’s Most Trusted Leader award, his 400-strong team is more fired up than ever.
It’s all down to purpose. When Kelly joined Fáilte Ireland in 2017, having worked at Diageo and Procter & Gamble, one of his top priorities was to ensure all staff had a strong sense of purpose.
“Fáilte Ireland’s mission is to help tourism survive and recover, to maximise its contribution to Ireland in a way that is economically, environmentally, socially and culturally sustainable,” he explains.
“As an organisation we are not here for the sake of visitors, nor even for the tourism sector, but for the sake of everyone in Ireland.”
He believes that establishing a clear sense of purpose helps unleash an organisation’s potential.
“When people get that sense of purpose, leaders and managers no longer have to motivate people anymore, they motivate themselves,” says Kelly.
Leaders need to help their teams understand their purpose in a wider context.
“People get very focused on their job, on their particular piece of the jigsaw puzzle. It’s really important they don’t lose sight of the overall picture,” he says.
Prior to Covid, some 260,000 families in Ireland depended on tourism for their income. “Communities and villages all over the country would be devastated without tourism,” he points out.
When Covid hit, Fáilte Ireland’s strong sense of purpose enabled a swift response.
“We have built up great friendships as well as great professional relationships with our industry colleagues and partners. When the industry collapsed I didn’t need to work to keep morale up because everyone was so fired up to help the industry’s challenges. Our role as the leadership team was to simply focus that drive, to manage it to be as impactful as possible. The drive was already there,” he says.
Productivity rates went “through the roof” he says, as staff responded to the crisis by generating the research papers and economic analysis required to inform government about the need for industry supports.
It provided urgent training to tourism businesses in areas such as cash flow and HR management through Covid, as well as safe reopening.
It ramped up marketing campaigns and put its marketing expertise at the disposal of other public sector agencies too, helping to create campaigns for the Health Service Executive, for example.
It has shown public service initiative at its best. “The dedication and commitment I’ve seen from the public sector has been phenomenal,” he says.
Right from the beginning his team saw themselves “as citizens of Ireland first, public servants second and Fáilte Ireland staff third. We will do whatever we can to help,” he says.
For example, staff from the tourism body helped process pandemic unemployment payments to support the Department of Social Protection.
Kelly committed to making Fáilte Ireland a Great Place to Work when he interviewed for the chief executive role.
“A Great Place to Work doesn’t mean beanbags and foosball tables. It means a workplace where people really feel they are making a brilliant contribution, where they are using their time well, and not wasting time battling bureaucracy,” he explains.
Being a “Trusted Leader” has resonance for him, and not just in a time of high anxiety.
“The more trust managers can give their teams, the more one colleague trusts another, the more an organisation can get things done. A lack of trust slows organisations down. Trust is the real accelerant,” says Kelly.
Jim Flynn, of Great Place to Work, agrees: “There is no point talking about leadership that doesn’t have followship. It comes from a belief that your leader has good intent, has your back, and ensures you can do your job.”
Organisations with trusted leadership have found navigating Covid easier than those which don’t have it, he suggests. Says Flynn: “Where other organisations would have been tied up in rules and regulations, Fáilte Ireland was able to change its whole work environment almost instantly and pivot very quickly.”
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