Asiana Ponciano – Strategic Talent Leader, Employee Voice & Engagement at Hawaiian Airlines [Employee Experience]

Asiana Ponciano is the Strategic Talent Leader, Employee Voice & Experience at Hawaiian Airlines. Asiana talks about her role, shares the new vision at Hawaiian Airlines and how it is broken down into four words: Mālama – “care”, Ho’okipa – “hospitality”, Lōkahi – Means “collaboration”, and Po’okela – “excellence”.

Nick Glimsdahl 0:02
Welcome to the Press 1 for Nick podcast. My name is Nick Glimsdahl. And my guest this week is Asiana Ponciano. Asiana is the strategic talent leader employee voice and engagement at Hawaiian Airlines. Asiana, welcome the Press 1 for Nick podcast.

Asiana Ponciano 0:19
Thanks, Nick. Mahalo for having me.

Nick Glimsdahl 0:22
Yeah, you are welcome. Hey, one thing that I asked every single guest is this. What’s one thing that people might not know about you?

Asiana Ponciano 0:35
Well, considering I work for an airline, I actually never traveled internationally before I started with Hawaiian 10 years ago, you know, I’m an island girl born and raised on a wahoo through and through the most I’ve ever traveled was, you know, to the mainland, what we call the continental US, the mainland. And so my first trip out of the country was to Fukuoka, Japan. And we flew there, I flew there, on our inaugural flight, I was tasked to do social media content. And it was so exciting, just to like go through the process of getting my passport and getting it kind of rushed, because you had to get on this flight. And so I’m forever grateful for Hawaiian Airlines and the job I have today. And now, you know, I’ve been to many, many other countries, and I’ve definitely caught the travel bug.

Nick Glimsdahl 1:24
Yeah, that is really cool. So as an island girl, what’s one recommendation that you would give my listeners when they get to Hawaii?

Asiana Ponciano 1:35
Well, right now considering were in the midst of the covid 19 pandemic, my my realistic piece of advice right now at this point in time would just be to understand all of the COVID-19 updates, especially when it when it comes to traveling to Hawaii. Luckily, Hawaiian Airlines has all of that information. You shouldn’t on our website at Hawaiian Airlines comm slash Coronavirus. But in general, I’d say to my friends and my families and anybody coming to visit Hawaii is to actually wear receive sunscreen, because you want to help our reefs and help the fishes and all the wildlife that’s in our ocean. But you know, at the same time, like when you have that receive sunscreen on make sure you’re you’re visiting as many beaches as you can, while you’re here, especially, you know, on where an island chain, and there’s, you can probably find a new beach every day. So I received sunscreen,

Nick Glimsdahl 2:41
there you go, hey, that’s some solid advice right there. So, you know, first gratulations on the new role. And the new roles now the strategic talent leader of employee voice and engagement at Hawaiian Airlines. Tell me more about what you do in your current role.

Asiana Ponciano 2:59

so as a strategic talent leader, there’s a few of us in our HR organ or department that’s kind of seen as our internal consultants, where we’re the thought partners for our leadership to solve some of the more tougher problems or hurdles with their talent and with you know, and with that comes, you know, issues around retention, compensation, performance evaluation, and in my, in my area, it’s really listening to the employee. So employee surveys, measuring employee engagement, and using that data to formulate action steps to increase engagement to to address where maybe, where employees feel that they’re meeting a little bit more support. And so really, I’m super excited because the team that I’m in, moving away a little from service and direct delivery of service to our employees, is now tackling the larger problems, the ones that may take a little bit more to implement, but once we do, it’s the real return on investment, I think with any with with an HR. So again, like stepping into this role as a result of our reorg and many companies, you know, this year had to undergo restructuring workforce adjustments. And so it really accelerated a vision of our, our senior vice president, you know, wanting to elevate Hawaiian Airlines HR into more of a partner for leaders to get the most out of our our employees, support them, treat them with Aloha. And so, you know, it was one of these things happenstance I kind of moved away from what I used to be doing, which was overseeing our employees But it really touches into what I wanted to do and explore, which is how can high employee engagement and satisfaction lead to customer satisfaction? And, you know, and so the correlation between those two, I think, kind of coalesce in my new role, and I can’t wait to explore what you know what we can do with it.

Nick Glimsdahl 5:25
Yeah, yeah, I completely agree. It’s employee experience equals, and has that direct correlation to, to the customer experience. So great insight from your leadership to, to see that in and provide you with that opportunity. The next thing that I want to talk about was this sentence and I want you to explain what this means is Hawaii flies with us.

Asiana Ponciano 5:55
Yeah, so Hawaii flies with us is our it’s our tagline. Some of your listeners may have heard of it on some of our TV and online spots. But you know, it really speaks to our, our goal when it comes to, you know, we strive to be the number one carrier serving Hawaii. And to do that, in order to do that, we think to our guests that that feeling you have when you’re in Hawaii, when you land, you just transform, right you the stress leaves your body use the all the senses are awakened. And so that experience we want to Hawaii, so we want to bring that with us what you know, in wherever we fly and what we do. So, I mean, this kind of comes into like, little touches in our in flight experience, Hawaii, and that inspiration of the islands is woven throughout that experience. You know, when you’re stepping onto our plane, you hear Hawaiian music you see on our our seat, back entertainment and our digital screens, Hawaiian musicians performing in you know, scenic areas across the island chain, our meal service or first class meal service designed by local talented chefs that, that use local ingredients are inspired by the recipes that are special to people here in Hawaii. And then, you know, I think it’s not only what we do, but it’s how we treat people. Many of our employees are either from Hawaii, you live in Hawaii, I love Hawaii. So, base, I often have heard conversations in the wild flying between our guests and our flight attendants and talking about, you know, what’s your favorite place to go where your favorite beaches when What should I try for? First, when it comes to food, and you talk to anybody that works for Hawaiian Airlines, they’ll give you like their top five. And so it’s a four, four, you know, being from Hawaii and sharing that with others. And so like that’s why we say Hawaii flies with us.

Nick Glimsdahl 8:29
Yeah, that’s it’s really cool. Because when you make it to Hawaii, you know, I’ve had the ability to make it there. And in you know, it was probably really late at night and the sun was already starting to go down. But you can hear the water we’re eating right on the beach. And that was my first experience. Right there. Is it seeing the sunset hearing the waves and eating wind foods. And so hearing you say that I can I feel what I experienced when I first landed so it’s a great representation.

Asiana Ponciano 9:08
Oh, great. Yes, I can hear I mean, like all the senses overload like, right, but the sounds the sights and the tastes we also like that’s exactly what we strive for when we’re designing our some of our product and some of our services like what’s as many senses can we touch upon to give that experience of Hawaii to our guests?

Nick Glimsdahl 9:29
Yeah, it’s very neat. So Hawaiian Airlines recently rolled out new vision and values. Tell me more about that.

Asiana Ponciano 9:38
Yeah, you know, we just celebrated our 90th anniversary last year and it was such a moment of pride and celebration for all of our employees, many of whom have been with the company, you know, decades 30 years and since celebrate our 90th anniversary was such a feat. And so to to kind of push us into the next 90 years, our CEO Peter Ingram revealed our new vision during ena, an employee luau. And the vision, our new vision is, and I’m quoting here to connect people with Aloha. And, you know, this is kind of a departure from our former former mission, which was, you know, much more, I think, rooted in like, our, you know, literal mission as a business, you know, it spoke to being, of course, a prosperous airline, and the top choice for travelers when coming to Hawaii. And so, what Peter said was that this new vision is a recommitment to what makes us special, and our new value. And our new values, outline what makes our airline special, because it does come down to describing the behaviors of our people, of the people who worked for us and, and the destination we serve. So you know, this value, which is just really, really simple to connect people with Aloha, it’s innate in all of us here at, at Hawaiian Airlines, but saying it it, you know, as our vision, it kind of reconnects us to that purpose. And if we follow through on that, then, you know, our, our mission as being a proper, prosperous airline will, will come because that’s why people come to choose Hawaiian airline, because it’s that something that intangible right, that they can’t describe, it’s just, oh, it’s how I feel when you like, talk to a gate agent or flight attendant, or when I touched down in Hawaii, and you know, and so, that is our new vision, I’m really excited because it kind of anchored me through this year of turbulence, you know, just to understand, like, what are we doing? And how can I feel connected, and it’s just that idea of connecting people to Aloha, which is a big word, many meeting, but it encompasses the, I think the people of Hawaii, it’s just that being caring and kind, and doing right by others, you know, and all of those great attributes that kind of help you to dictate how you want to be in not only at work, but in general. So yeah, that’s our new vision. And I’m really excited that Peter, and, you know, the leaders have, have come up with that. And I feel like as an employee, it helps me throughout my day to to just remind me what what we’re here doing here in Hawaii.

Nick Glimsdahl 12:28
Yeah, I love that the connect people to to Aloha. And and to continue to connect people to Aloha, you have these four words that are Hawaiian words, that kind of align with with your values, can you break those down for me?

Asiana Ponciano 12:48
For sure, and you know, I think it’s also like a little bit of a language class for your listeners. But that’s also a language class, I think for for many of our employees, as well. So I’ll go over those, but it actually does break down into translate into very basic behaviors. So I think, you know, it’s still tangible, even though the word itself may be foreign. So the first word is mallamma. And that’s Hawaiian, for care or to care. And it really speaks to, to caring for others, and to caring about the people and the places we serve, and to personally commit to their well being. And so Malala is actually something in HR, right, we definitely believe in because we’re caring for the people, our clients, our people, our employees. And so day in day out, we remind yourself of Malema. The second word is hookipa. And that translates to hospitality. And it’s to be genuine hosts welcoming people into our home with warmth, gratitude, and with full hearts. And this comes to the core of our, our service, we like to we often say we deliver authentic Hawaiian hospitality. And in Hawaiian, that’s all Kiba. And so when we, you know, I used to manage our consumer affairs office, which was dealing with, you know, when things were rough, rough and rocky or in and our guests would come back to us and not happy, it’s really, you know, making sure that we treat everyone as if they’re guests in our home. It’s that, that that warmth, that we should be delivering to people. And so that’s core, I think that’s very record to our service, it’s core to what differentiates us again from other carriers. The third word is lokahi. And that means collaboration and so you know, to come together in harmony and and we’re always seeking a better, better ways to succeed as a team, so you know, teamwork. I mean here in Hawaii we have canoe paddling outrigger canoe paddling is a very popular water sport. And we often use that as a metaphor for our teamwork. We’re all in one canoe paddling individually, but going into the same going to the same direction in the same direction. And so lokahi speaks to that collaboration this year, oh my god, more than ever, we had to collaborate cross functionally, with other departments within our department. And so lokahi is very important to our success. And then finally, pulchella, which means excellence, and it’s to strive for excellence, and, you know, competing to thrive. So, we we’ve had to compete to thrive, carriers coming in to our market, you know, we had Alaska, we have Southwest. And, you know, we like to say whatever we’re doing, we’re competing to thrive, which we’re always striving for excellence. And so it kind of speaks to a lot of what we do here at Hawaiian, when it comes to just trying to put yourselves in it when it comes to innovation, testing new ideas, and you know, if it doesn’t work, do a reiteration process, try it, try it again. And then there’s just that constant drive to excel. Because if if we’re doing that, then we’re heating to thrive and carrying our carry, you know, carrying Hawaiian Airlines into the next 90 years. So those are our four values, it’s a lot to unpack with Hawaiian language, there is a lot to unpack in like a single word, but I think it does speak to just simply four characteristics or behaviors that, you know, employees that all of us really have within us. But just to be able to identify, identify those behaviors and work at it or celebrate it when we’re doing when we’re doing that. And when we see all of us, kind of embodying those, those behaviors. And this year, I feel like we definitely did just to come together as a family and you know, and live our values.

Nick Glimsdahl 17:13
Yeah, I highly doubt that. My listeners thought that they were going to get a Hawaiian word word class, but I think it was, it’s, it’s, it’s deep. And I love the fact that you guys are using Hawaiian words to to break that down for your value. So just for recap on on the what they mean, I’m not gonna embarrass myself on trying to unseat them at this time, but maybe the next time, we’ll have a conversation, but it’s care. It’s hospitality. It’s collaboration, and it’s excellence, correct?


yes. Yes. And so, do you line like key performance indicators from each word?

Asiana Ponciano 17:57
Yeah, that’s a great question. You know, I mean, we, it’s a relatively new rollout, I mean, a new set of values and our vision, you know, rolled out late last year, and we were going to really do a full this year, we were planning to do in person training for our, our managers and, and, and making sure that it was going to go all the way through to the our frontline employees, and we are adjusted trying to do those virtually, and just integrated into our communication. You know, I think it’s, it’s relatively new, we haven’t seen on our score, or card tied to our values, but some of our core metrics, you know, like Net Promoter Score, or, or on time performance. Those can, if you think about it can be tied to our values. Net Promoter scores are a reflection of our hospitality whole Kiba. Our on time performance is a reflection of our drive to Excel for excellence, you know, like pulchella. And, you know, I think we’re gonna eventually tie it much more clearly, to our values. But you know, from a step lower to that we in our, our employee performance development plans, there are expectations to develop and, and work on core competencies on each employee has, you know, core competencies to work on. And so those core competencies are tied to our values. And you know, we can and every year, we just kind of list out which values maybe we want to work more at or develop and build SMART goals around that. So I think it did start with the people and making sure that we all to feel like we can stand behind the values. So in our performance development plans is where we’re Starting to hopefully establish those set of four values into our annual review. And we’re looking forward to that. I think that’s something actually my team is working on another strategic talent leader who oversees our performance development plan, our program, he’s kind of being tasked with incorporating our values into into that.

Nick Glimsdahl 20:26
Yeah, I love how you how you do that when you align their values with with employee development, because there’s so many organizations that have siloed information. And it could just be solid departments that have tasks from each department that maybe not have the overall holistic need, but you’re taking your values and pushing them through that employee development. And I think that’s crucial. So, congrats on that. Thanks. So, you know, we talked a lot about change already. But, of course, in 2020, this has been the longest decade of our life, but every company was forced to change right, during the pandemic. So how did Hawaiian Airlines adapt?

Asiana Ponciano 21:19
Yeah, you know, we actually, our corporate communications team, wrote a series of blog posts, called changing the course, about this exact topic, because they had seen a lot of individuals come together from different departments. And just address the, the unprecedented challenge we were faced with, you know, not only, I mean, just the airline industry as a whole. So we, for example, one of these examples of changing the course, or how we, you know, had to become agile and innovative, was one of our sales directors, she stepped out of her normal job her day to day to lead a team dedicated to addressing issues tied to business, agility, commercial initiatives, marketing, communications, and among other things, so early on this group, so it was kind of a committee. It was a committee formed by different representatives across the organization led by this sales director. And one of the big problems they had to tackle relatively quickly was, you know, in the beginning of the year, our routes were, were going to start to rise. And so the, the, the temporary closures of our Auckland, Brisbane and Sydney routes, posed logistical challenges and so many considerations that one department or one team could not handle by themselves, and definitely had to break the silos down, right. And so she led this team, and there were other shoes that came up that this team had to work through and provide, you know, manage it from a project standpoint, address all the concerns that were being raised from different departments. And so she definitely had to step out of her normal day to day and get this job done. And then another example of agility was, again, early on, you know, like, many other, like what we were doing in the US and many other countries were doing, were shutting down. And so our contact center in the Philippines was significantly impacted by their shutdown of Metro Manila, due to the rising cases of COVID-19. And, you know, our call center, the agents could not come in to Metro Manila to go to work. And our staffing was dramatically impacted. It took a hit, and this was coming right when our guests were calling, they wanted to change their flight, they wanted to cancel there was a lot of confusion, a lot of concerns. So the call volumes were, you know, through the roof, and so our customer contact group had to very, very quickly visit and they stood up a pop up Call Center here at our corporate office. And it was staffed by employees here who some of whom had to take a crash course in our reservations ticketing system, you know, they’ve never you know, had to really normally interact with our guests over over phone or email. And so they you know, they they stood up this pop up called contact center or call center, staffed with employees who volunteered for this job as well as not only corporate office employees, but our customer service agents from the from our Honolulu station came over and we Who are whizzes out, of course, our ticketing system and stepped in and took calls. And so, you know, our main objective there was really just to attend to our guests to make them feel like they were being heard attend, you know, and we were taking care of them. And I think that was such a great example of pivoting and coming together to solve a problem as our contact center, you know, kind of had to deal through their their countries shut down. We stabilized now the pop up center, pop up call centers no longer but I think just to know that we could do it. It was really a moment of, of pride, you know, and it definitely was hard work, but at least it was really cool to see it to see it get done.

Nick Glimsdahl 25:49
Yeah, I think the one other thing that I, my guess is what came out of it is the people that typically don’t take that time to, to sit or their their full time role typically isn’t the contact center. They have a deep appreciation for the work that they do. And then maybe on the opposite side of the wizards who came over, who helped with the reservation side had more of a deep understanding of what what these other people are willing to participate to help drive your guys’s values? Oh, yes.

Asiana Ponciano 26:25
I mean, I would think I heard from those who volunteered, you know, their renewed respect for our reservations agents. And I think they now know how, how important it is for for them to do their job, what they’d normally do with that mindset, you know, with the service delivery mindset on and making sure that they’re attending to kind of seeing all of the questions and concerns that maybe a reservation reservations agent may have, while they’re building programs, or while they’re pushing out new products. And then yeah, the same with our customer service agents coming over seeing, you know, just interacting with different coworkers. I think it just was a, there was so much other benefits that came from it. I mean, of course, we wanted to make sure we we were serving our guests, but we I think came out of it as a strong team, a stronger company.

Nick Glimsdahl 27:24
Yeah, yeah, I could definitely see that. So I could definitely ask and easily ask you another five or 10 more questions. But unfortunately, we’ll have to wrap up this episode. But I have two questions that I asked every single guest. And the first one is, what book or person has influenced you the most in the past year. And then the second one is, if you could leave a note to all the customer service professionals, what would it say?

Asiana Ponciano 27:52
Oh, um,

so the the first question the book or the book, I think so this one was it took me through the doldrums of 2020. And it was it’s actually, it’s on YouTube takeaway. Tt is a New Zealand director. And he brought together some of his celebrity friends to do a reading of James in the Giant Peach. So it was a series on YouTube, and I’m sure that your listeners can find it. And they read James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. And I just felt it was so it was one of those every time I tuned in I you know, felt like a kid again. I love that story, about you know, a kid going through an adventure, and coming out of it with some new friends. And I just feel like, you know, it just helped me kind of get through some of the some of the hard times of 2020 I highly recommend your listeners go and find it on YouTube and just kind of maybe, sit and watch it. But you know, especially if you have children. It’s it was a really well put together presentation of that book. And then to the second question, my piece of advice and you don’t think I’m thinking about it through this conversation. When it comes to customer service, I would have to say to treat people with a law. I want to say that that’s our you know, Hawaiian Airlines vision. But just the concept of Aloha, I think is it gets to the root of, of excellent customer service. It’s it’s a mix of, you know, kindness, caring. There’s also this idea of anticipation, anticipating your guests needs being that host that that hosts that you know, everyone would love to come to your your home for that dinner party. Or if somebody spills on the white wine on the carpet, you make them feel like it’s okay, we got it. And so you can draw out a lot of, I think, characteristics of excellent customer service when you think about the word Aloha. So I mean, coming from Hawaii, I think I would have to say like, you know, the philosophy of love of aloha can translate into customer service and like just kind of taking a look at that and seeing how your customer service philosophy can pick up some of the themes from that that single word.

Nick Glimsdahl 30:35
Yeah, I love that. I think that’s great advice. What’s the best way for my listeners to connect with you?

Asiana Ponciano 30:45
Yeah, you

can find me on LinkedIn, Asiana Ponciano on LinkedIn, I’m also I’m on Twitter at Asiana Ponciano. But I’d say, you know, find me on LinkedIn, I’m always happy to chat with others. In the customer service industry, I’ve employee engagement now. Brand storytelling, I love to what we seen in Hawaii is talk story. So that’s just like, let’s chat. So yeah, find me on LinkedIn. Asiana Ponciano

Nick Glimsdahl 31:17
Great, so I recommend you connecting with her. Anytime when you feel comfortable with and you make that trip to Hawaii go with Hawaiian Airlines to feel the way that they connect with Aloha. So thank you so much easy on. I really appreciate your time and looking forward to the success that you guys will have here in the future.

Asiana Ponciano 31:42
Thank you so much, Nick. It was a pleasure speaking to you


The Press 1 For Nick podcast is both educational and engaging, and each episode offers listeners a dynamic blend of insightful stories, best practices, and invaluable lessons.

Nick’s guests – each with a unique wealth of knowledge – include leaders from a variety of backgrounds and industries. Some of his guests include:

  • Customer service & customer experience leaders
  • A hostage negotiator
  • Award-winning authors
  • Home Depot’s Senior Director of Customer Care
  • Former VP of Disney’s Magic Kingdom
  • Lyft’s Head of Partner and Customer Engagement
  • Deputy Chief Veteran Experience Officer from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs

On every episode Nick asks his guest two questions:

  1. What book or person has influenced you the most in the past year?
  2. If you could leave a note to all the Customer Service and CX professionals, what would it say?

You can find all the podcast guests’ answers under their episodes below.

If all you want is the guests’ book recommendations, you can go here.

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