First Things First:
I have not taken any pilot training. However, I love the rule of thumb taught to each new pilot as they train. They carry this teaching throughout their time as pilots: Aviate, Navigate, Communicate (A-N-C). It’s the priority for their attention; in other words, first things first and stay focused.
For the pilot, this means using the flight control instruments to
ensure the plane is in the proper flying configuration—attitude, airspeed, and altitude. It also means watching fuel consumption.
The analogy is to make sure we are watching the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in business. I don’t want to press this analogy too far, but attitude might mean making sure we are neither growing too fast (climbing too quickly in the plane and thus perhaps heading for a stall) nor losing market share (diving toward the ground). Ensuring the aircraft is at a safe altitude to avoid obstacles (buildings, mountains, etc.) and fly efficiently may be analogous to making sure our business can produce the products and services our market demands.
Watching fuel consumption equates to watching our cash flow. When will we run out of cash and crash?
No pilot takes off without having made and filed a flight plan. The pilot knows where they are and where they are going, and the best route to the destination.
Of course, the same is true for our business. As a start-up company, we have a plan we share with prospective employees and investors. We describe how we are going to get the plane into the air and keep it there. In this case, the flight plan, or business plan, is detailed with various summary levels depending on whom we are addressing. Prospective employees may want to know only about the vision—we’re here, and we will change the world by going there. It will be a bright, sunny day. The ride will be smooth and exciting. And they will want to know what tasks they will have during the flight, and what their flight pay will be!
Investors will want to see the detailed plan. They want to know each leg of the flight. They want to know the timing for each change in heading and altitude. And, they want to know about the skill of the cockpit crew. They will ask fundamental questions such as “how will you prepare the aircraft? Have you planned for headwinds and fuel consumption? How and why did you choose this destination? You get the point.
For the pilot, communication usually means speaking with Air Traffic Control (ATC) about where they are, what they intend to do, and acknowledging any directions they receive from ATC.
In our businesses, communication is critical throughout the organization. As leaders, we have to continuously relate where we are, where we intend to go, how we will get there, and how each functional group will help bring us to the destination.
Communication with those outside our company—customers, vendors, community, and perhaps shareholders or investors—is also essential. Especially in times of turmoil (like all of 2020?), communication is the key to succeeding.
Prepare, Plan, and Practice
The last part of this analogy is the routine of preparing, planning, and practicing. For the pilot, that means understanding the aircraft’s parameters, getting a weather briefing, having the flight plan done and filed for every take-off and landing, and practicing the emergency procedures for the many failure points in a routine flight.
It’s the same in business. The piece I see missing in many companies is the “Practice for emergencies” part. Some of the standard things are addressed—fire exits, where to meet, earthquake preparedness—but new emergencies are often not handled promptly. For example, data security and pandemic preparation are threats that many small businesses have ignored.
Now that the new year is here, we can up our game on practicing for emergencies. I know that for the companies I work with, the pandemic planning is underway already. Many leaders are heeding the warning that our interconnected and interdependent world will see more pandemics. Supply chain disruption is all but assured.
A-N-C and P-P-P are great analogies to keep in mind as we launch into 2021 and beyond.