WHY MANIFEST MATTERS
At any dropzone, the manifest staff is an important part of the operation. Organization, efficiency, and friendliness must be at the core of what this department is all about. The right people and processes in place can mean flying a few extra loads, avoiding an unnecessary start on the engine, creating positive energy in your facility, and ensuring you don't burn a drop of extra fuel in the loading area waiting for your fun jumpers.
Manifest is a fast paced, high pressure environment, and requires a lot of simultaneous task management. But sometimes these employees don't get the help or attention they need from their managers in order to succeed. At CSC, everything we do in this department is designed to do one fundamental thing: enable manifest to do their job without any internal roadblocks. We share our system of hiring, training, and retaining manifest staff in this article, with the hope we may help other dzs enjoy the benefits we've seen from a great manifest team.
START WITH HIRING THE RIGHT PEOPLE
At CSC, our approach to finding awesome staff is to hire the right personality and train the task. Then it's the dropzone management team's responsibility to work tirelessly to build trust.
The most important thing for us is to ensure that every time a guest or staff member walks up to the manifest window, the first thing they see is a smile. The next thing available is the information or slot they request. Everyone in our company is a guest relations associate - and there is not a more important place for that to be true than the manifest office.
Dropzones run manifest differently, and there is certainly more than one successful system. But it's important for a drozone manager to challenge the status quo by recognizing manifest's place at his or her dz, based on what the operation needs. Is your manifest staff respected? Appreciated? Constantly harassed by your tandem instructors? Feeling beat up by the dz manager when a mistake is made?
When manifest staff can become decision makers and problem solvers who can go through their day without wondering if they'll be backed up by management on choices they make, your dropzone can play in another league. Make that statement true, and it WILL have a positive impact on your business.
Easier said than done, right? Consider the following steps to create and maintain a positive manifest environment.
1. Arm with Information
Where will most people start when they have a question? Probably manifest. Access to information for your staff is probably the most vital thing you can do to keep the team aligned and keep the cogs spinning. They want (and need) to have the answers. Do your manifest employees seem unmotivated to be helpful or courteous? Consider the idea they may feel like they can't do the job you want them to.
Think through the top 5 questions manifest is likely to get from fun jumpers, instructors, students, pilots, and spectators that may happen to walk up to the window. Does your team have immediate access to this information? If not, build whatever cheat sheet, calendar, web browser bookmarks, or reference materials they may need. These resources may need to be adjusted as the season goes on. Ask often if any roadblocks came up. Then ask, how can we do better tomorrow?
2. Adjust often
Consistently refresh training abut the most important functions of the manifest job and remind your team of the resources available to do it best. Give specific feedback about things going well. Offer corrective training when something could be improved.
Consider that each employee may have a different learning style and need different training methods to make the information stick. Don't forget to ask for feedback on topics you discuss - and be open to evolving your training depending on what you hear. Good ideas can come from anywhere.
New employees offer new perspectives. New seasons can be fresh starts for new systems. There's no bad time to make a change in how you run your dropzone if a new way is better! "That's the way we've always done it," doesn't fly at CSC, and some of our most important operations changes have happened over time based on ideas from the front lines - manifest!
3. Teach them how to “fish”
During training and introductions to a system of manifesting and related procedures, have your team take control and use tools to "hack" their job. Guide them to information, describe what's happening while they do it, and explain why that piece of the puzzle is important. You'll probably get some new ideas about how to manage logistics and information.
When CSC starts training a new team member, the first step is having them go through the entire customer experience from parking lot to logbook entry so they may experience the process from the guest side. They make a reservation as a guest on our website. They use our customer service chat feature. They call into our phone number to try to seek out specific information. Knowing what's available externally helps manifest anticipate needs.
Over time, manifest develops a big picture view of what's happening on the dz and can predict needs before they arise. We share key business information so manifest knows how to make a tough call. How much of this information do you share with your manifest employees?
- How much does it cost the business to send a plane load?
- How can manifest ensure you never take a loss by sending a load, especially on a light student day?
- In what situation might the normal aircraft slot minimum not apply?
- If you have to choose between an additional start on the engine and sending the load without the minimum slots booked, what do you want manifest to choose?
- What is the minimum ratio of load organizer comped slots to paid fun jumper slots you want maintained?
- When is a comp video slot worth it from a marketing perspective?
- Why does instructor and videographer rotation get done the way it does?
- What should manifest say to a staff member who complains about work rotation?
- How often does the aircraft need to fuel and how does that effect calls times?
- When might grabbing fuel a load ahead of the need help the load pace accommodate upcoming variables?
- How should manifest communicate multiple pass loads?
- How could calls be announced to keep the load pace going when complex dirt dives are happening or you need to buy a couple extra minutes to prep a student?
When your manifest team knows the why behind management decisions and preferences, they have the power to create the best scenarios they can for the entire operation.
4. Share information in real time
You might not want to share manifest's secret recipe for keeping loads turning. But consider the benefits that come along with sharing. Anything you can do to cut down on questions from guests and staff has a direct impact on how happy your manifest team will be.
CSC runs manifest digitally with Burble. The system is quick, adjustable, and allows us to keep slot information available in real time. TV screens with our real time departure viewer are located at the guest manifest window, staff manifest window, and student staging area so load info is available for the upcoming hour. This gives fun jumpers and load organizers the knowledge of what’s available. Staff know what they are doing for the few couple loads. Students have access to the answer to the ever present “how long until I jump?” question.
Dozens of unnecessary requests of manifest are prevented daily by simply sharing load data.
If you use paper tickets at your dz, consider how you might be able to develop a solution to serve your needs. How could you quickly display what's happening on the next few loads at your manifest window? Your jumpers, load organizers, and staff will appreciate having a big picture view of their day.
5. Encourage independence
Allow manifest to function without a manager over the shoulder. When people are micromanaged, they tend to be afraid to do anything without approval, shut down when things get stressful, and are generally less productive. Let them find their own way throughout the day’s processes and see what works best for each person. You may need to help along the way, but consider what your dropzone manager's day might look like when manifest gets to the point of functioning without constant input or supervision.
Take whatever steps are needed to develop trust between your dz managers and manifest staff. It has to be a two way street.
Above all else, find what works best for your dropzone and make sure everyone is having fun. Smiling people enjoy their jobs and guests who are treated well spend more money.
As summer goes on, days get longer and hotter, so take time during a busy week to reward the efforts your manifest team puts forth. Set goals and acknowledge when they are reached. Surprise them with ice cream on a hot day, a small gift, or hand deliver the first beer after sunset load lands.
If manifest isn't having fun, no one on the dropzone will either.
Photos provided by Javier Ortiz Photography