Improve your Load Control efficiency (4): Why the auto-load button doesn´t always make your life easier….
In Load Control automation can be described as the use of system support to simplify processes. But it appears that the benefits gained through automation are perceived differently between the management and the user level. It is the management’s task to take these gaps into consideration when deciding to make their load control department more efficient through automation support.
The objective of automation in Load Control is to increase the efficiency of a load controller enabling him/her to produce more load sheets and load plans per shift - while ensuring the same quality level. Therefore automation is usually achieved by the following automation features:
Automatically triggered Load Control events:
Certain Load Control events have to be executed at a specific time (for instance sending the first estimate ZFW XY minutes before ETD, etc.). Here, a schedule driver that triggers Load Control events automatically is responsible for the automated processing.
The creation of load plans / loading instructions is done by an algorithm considering all necessary company and country rules as well as special load and dangerous goods.
Especially the auto-load functionality is an intensively discussed approach and highly favored among management. From their perspective automation comes along with higher productivity, reduced errors and more user comfort, making the life of a load controller easier.
Yet in practice and from a load controller’s perspective things are different: During my work as a consultant for load control I experienced many Load Control organizations where load controller continued to create their load plans manually by drag and drop - not using the “comfortable” auto-load button.
What might be the explanation? One just has to carefully listen to how the Load Controllers answered, when being asked, why they are not using this feature. Two typical answers were:
“My manual load plan has a better quality than with auto-load”
“By not using auto-load, I always have an exact overview about what was loaded where. I can better react”
These statements exactly mirror some psychological issues automation brings along. The load controller has a different “inside” view on the “benefits” of automation than his management does. This perception is accompanied by certain emotions which are usually neglected by the management when introducing a new system and changing their load control department into “automation mode”.
Let´s have a closer look at these two replies and what´s behind:
“My manual load plan has a better quality than with auto-load”
In times, where the auto-load functionality of an sophisticated weight & balance system is able to consider all the business rules for creating a load plan this argument doesn´t seem very convincing anymore. The aim of the algorithm is to create the load plan according to the same rules as a load controller would apply. Therefore, such repetitive standard rules can be executed by an algorithm.
What might be the reason behind such a load controller reply? Each load controller gained a lot of weight and balance knowledge during his training and work life. He/she had to pass several exams to become a licensed load controller. This gave him a certain competency and expertise. Now, this competency is more or less being replaced by the algorithm. This might be accompanied by a fear losing further competency in the future up to being replaced completely. It is therefore even more important that the management addresses this fear by emphasizing that the competency now has changed. The new challenge for a load controller is to manage many more flights simultaneously and focus on taking care of disruptions and exceptions.
“By not using auto-load, I always have overview about what was loaded where. I can better react”
By becoming a load controller you learn how to manually create load plans – many times by simply using paper. With the support of a load control system, the drag and drop functionality even makes life easier as the time-consuming handwriting is omitted.
Of course, by putting one load item after the other manually in your load plan, you exactly know, what you have done and where each load item was placed. And let´s be honest: This is also more fun and part of the competency trained. But when speaking about “better reacting”: Should this expertise trained and gained not finally result in another additional competency? An experienced load controller should be able to work on-the-spot with any created load plan with load items loaded and diagnose, whether the result is fine or he needs to do any improvement/trouble-shooting. So is manual drag and drop for an experienced load controller really the prerequisite for better reaction?
The argumentative solution can be deducted from the following ”give & take” situation when using auto-load”: The “amount” of saved mental requirement for the load plan creation by pushing an auto-load button can now be used for the evaluation of critical load plan situations, that really need a human factor for solution. This can never be done by system and that´s also, why Load Controllers shouldn´t fear their status quo.
What is the conclusion?
Implementing a system that changes your load controllers work environment requires a change management program also considering more the human factor. It’s not just advancements of the new technology that have to be addressed or a simple training. Other elements that are part of the work culture, such as the status quo, traditions, mindset, fear or apathy seem to consistently influence the employees in a changing work environment. Therefore management should help their employees with the mental transition towards a new self-concept of the changed work-role.
Unfortunately, my experience is that many managers avoid handling this more “emotional” issue. I can just recommend taking the effort to do it. It simply lies in the nature of this topic, that employees being asked to use automation first show resistance. But by addressing all aspects within this broader change management approach usually organizations achieve that most of the employees gradually get integrated into the new environment until the new status quo is reached.
I am looking forward to reading your comments about this difficult topic!