Often in life and in business, we don’t have a clear strategy for what we’re trying to achieve. Taking the time out to focus on designing a strategy and discussing it with our team members is something we “don’t have time for”. Discussing what is expected of everyone during an undertaking and asking everyone to feedback with accountability is met with resistance, as if we are questioning each other’s ability rather than trying to help each other run more smoothly.
We become frustrated when one department doesn’t work well with another department and question whether we have the right people in play. We forget that, as skilled as we may be in our own arena, we seldom know how to do the job of others. Operations isn’t qualified in sales, and marketing doesn’t speak “finance”. HR deals with people whilst Procurement deals with product. And IT, well, nobody understands IT except IT…. So why is it that we think they should understand our needs, or that we understand theirs without having strategic conversations that unpack these things?
When the crew of an aircraft prepare for a flight, their strategy is multi-layered. Not only does it involve collecting information from various sources such as weather, cargo and passenger loads, possible traffic and route planning considerations; but various conversations go on between the crew. The Captain will discuss the overview for the flight and make sure that the whole crew is in the picture. Both the flight and cabin crew will acknowledge the parts they have to play in achieving readiness and go about completing their responsibilities before reporting back to the Captain.
Various communications will go back and forth between the crew of the aircraft and the other operators involved in the greater facilitation of the flight – people such as ground handling staff, fuel attendants and Air Traffic Control. Throughout the flight, the crew keep each other informed of the completed stages of their duties and any developments that might affect their outcomes and that of the flight.
Without this kind of constant communication and accountability, we wouldn’t be able to achieve the clarity, speed and smoothness of operation needed to run efficient flight schedules safely. In aviation, it’s imperative that everyone is aware of their responsibilities and accountable to the rest of their team for their completion. Whilst each of us is professional in the operation of our own roles, the speed of our operation as a whole relies on open and continuous communication between the roles. There is a predetermined back-and-forth between us so that everyone knows what to expect, and when. When information is incomplete, out of order or not timeously forthcoming, it adds pressure and unnecessary build-up of incomplete steps that cannot be moved past. We work hard to ensure operations are seamless so that our full focus and energy is reserved for the task at hand, and not side-lined by having to chase each other up.
Aviation has paid a high price for its mistakes. When something goes wrong, the consequences and cost can be high, both financially and in terms of human life. At the very least, time is costly when we are delayed – not only for the industry itself, but for each passenger or client to whom we offer our service. In many regards, it has served aviation positively that our cost for failure is so visible and dear. It has ensured that we understand what we gain when we stop to have those conversations that ensure our whole crew are informed and on the same page prior to every flight. When we take time to establish, implement and practise Standard Operating Procedures, we understand what we gain in clarity and speed, and what we remove in risk.
When we ask each other how we’re doing today, it’s not out of mere curiosity and personal interest, but also so that we understand how best to have each other’s backs on the rare occasion that a crew member has not fully accounted for the effect that life is currently having on them. When we spend time “imagining” what we’d do right now if A, B or C went wrong, our minds are primed for various possible scenarios and don’t need kicking into gear if something presents itself. When we’ve programmed the next few radio frequencies we’ll need in ahead of time, it means we don’t have to waste time looking for them when we should be making contact. When we debrief after each flight and discuss what we did well and what we could do better, we maintain an open and healthy environment of constant self and peer assessment with a focus on continuous improvement.
This kind of culture didn’t develop overnight. It developed initially out of necessity when our cost for failure became too high and aviation decided they needed new strategies. It has subsequently been added to after every flight, and every incident or accident over many past decades.
Understanding our weaknesses and failures and studying the outcomes we’d rather not repeat – be they small discrepancies during a flight, or full accident investigations – has helped aviation constantly improve their strategies over time. We aim to leave as little room for error as possible, and to mitigate that error with our mental readiness should something unexpected arise.
Until we make time for strategy, and the conversations that acknowledge every team member’s role and responsibilities, we can’t have an expectation of smooth operation. Professionalism, accountability and open communication are parts of a culture – they are not skills you can demand delivery of overnight. They must be demonstrated, encouraged and lived by every person who contributes to the team – from the Captain down; and from each team member individually. Each of us can lead by example. Each of us can challenge ourselves and others to better communication and greater understanding. Each of us can take the time to explain clearly what we need and what our expectations are. Each of us can deliver on our roles and responsibilities whilst keeping our team members informed, because together, we can go faster and further.
So, what is your strategy?
by Christen Killick
August 9th, 2021