Amidst all this pandemic hype, we find many businesses being focused so heavily on protection, that there’s nobody left flying the plane. Could this be true for and yours?
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Being focused – some background
Phew, that famous phrase: “may you live in interesting times” has certainly come home to roost, hasn’t it? I’ve hardly heard a word like “unprecedented” used more often than now.
And the media is doing it’s absolute best to fan the hype flames, rather than sticking to reporting the facts. I can’t think of anyone anywhere in the world unaffected at a personal level. Some more than others, of course.
And at a business level we find:
- Some businesses absolutely unable to cope with additional demand created by the pandemic.
- Some able to maintain “business as usual”.
- And one heck of a lot of businesses having to invoke the most stringent of survival strategies, seek bail-outs where possible, or simply close their doors. Regrettably, many never to open again.
- EVERYBODY has to carefully consider their business model and find survival strategies. Ones that can hopefully outlive this current situation and span whatever “new normal” is going to emerge later on.
Being Focused on Flying the Plane
What I want to talk about today, is “being focused” in the context of balance:
- Between keeping everyone safe as we struggle to contain the pandemic spread on the one hand.
- And to keep running and adapting our businesses and our livelihoods on the other.
Most will recall the Qantas incident in July 2012 when an exploded engine rendered an Airbus A380 almost unflyable just after take-off in Singapore? Yet in the following 105 minutes, the pilot Richard de Crespigny, successfully flew the plane back to Singapore for a safe landing. Saving the lives of over 400 people.
This incident was widely reported and Captain de Crespigny put himself into hero status. Similar to that of pilots Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles for having landed their plane “safely” on the Hudson river.
Why I love using Captain de Crespigny’s “story” as a metaphor? Because he chose to focus on flying the plane. While he “delegated” and relied on his remaining crew to figure out what happened. And what needed to be done to rescue their situation.
Many of you may know that a common theme prevails across a large number of aircraft disasters. That everyone on board is so focused on “finding and fixing” the problems, that they forget to fly the plane. And it crashes.
How does that relate to business?
Well, I was recently coaching a leader of a larger company with several hundred people. He realized how much proportional time and energy of the executive committee was being focused on the pandemic. That’s not only understandable, but commendable. That’s our responsibility to our people and our business. To assure the ongoing safety and protection of everyone involved in the business processes.
But what “stepping back” in such a coaching conversation helped do, was to recognize that they had possibly lost the required balance. And he could readily relate to the above “who is flying the plane” metaphor.
Now there is a small senior subcommittee, suitably staffed to do justice to the developing needs of the pandemic. Including the ongoing research, audits and communication. While the rest of the resources are focused on running (and saving) the business.
Being focused and Innovation
What we also discussed was the degree of innovation this pandemic’s “survival threat” demands. If we want our business to stay alive, let alone thrive.
The above mentioned company pride themselves on their amount of “internally generated” innovation. Hiring “smart people” and giving them the space to be creative in a supportive culture helps. Rewarding successful outcomes helps too. As does ongoing update communication that celebrates breakthroughs everyone benefits from.
One leadership challenge is to balance “business as usual” from the more exciting “projects” type activities. Which unfortunately are often viewed as the ones in which innovation materializes.
I remember this conundrum in my corporate CIO days. None of our IT professionals wanted to support, tune and maintain existing systems. A task often labelled as “maintenance”. They all wanted to be in “development mode”. Where all the new and exciting technologies and opportunities lay.
And so we needed to become very focused on balancing resource allocation across both domains. Or continuously lose good people.
I see that to be no different in today’s more “survival based innovation”. I’ve learned that innovation happens all the time. On the job or thinking about it. That being curious about why and how things work is a great starting point. How challenging current or conventional thinking is part of the deal. Hopefully in a culture that allows such challenge. Also a culture that rewards “having a go” rather than punishing mistakes.
We spoke about how all the players in the chain play a part. In identifying, designing, planning, resourcing, developing, building, implementing and commissioning a successful business solution outcome for a customer. Irrespective of where these resources sit or who they “belong” to.
And so we wondered how the creation of “round-table” brainstorming sessions with existing customers might help facilitate relevant new insights. Recognizing opportunities for doing different things together. Or doing current things differently.
And what if we explored doing the same with past customers? Or prospective customers? And why wouldn’t vendors or partners not be able and willing to add value to everybody’s outcomes, including theirs?
In almost 15 years as a coach and consultant I’ve learned that creating such collaborative cultures is so much more productive to finding win – win – win outcomes, than sticking steadfastly to competitively holding all our cards close to our chest. Rotating the right resources in and out at the right stages.
So is this resonating with you if you’re a team or business leader (or an aspiring one)?
How well have you been able to give the pandemic the focus it deserves? And how well have you been able to manage “flying your plane” in parallel?
Time is increasingly tight amidst these two very all-consuming processes, isn’t it? Particularly in today’s unprecedented situation.
Are you creating enough time and resources in your culture to enable the facilitation of sufficient innovation to “keep your business alive”?
While still flying your plane on it’s existing route(s) nonetheless?
Tricky thing flying planes, isn’t it? Unforgiving really. When things go wrong – everybody dies.
Ironically, every part in the chain that makes civil aviation safely possible has to collaboratively work together. Just like the collaborative approach to innovation we spoke about above.
And isn’t it also ironic that it needed something like an invisible, minute little virus particle to bring our current “business model” to it’s knees? Necessitating all this “survival innovation”?
I wish us all a “new future” in which we’ll still be flying, but within a model that allows us to still enjoy the view out of the cockpit window while “getting the job done”.