Leaders: First, Control the Aircraft
Three weeks into the Coronavirus crisis, what should you do next?
Twenty-five years ago, just 3,500 feet above downtown Atlanta, Georgia, the engine quit as my brother and I flew a small Cessna 172 to visit friends.
We were enjoying the view of the city below us when there was sudden and total silence.
Peaceful and terrifying at the same time.
My brother John, who is now a captain for a commercial airline, was my flight instructor. He had just helped me “solo” for the first time, so we decided to take the long trip from Maryland to learn some new skills.
Nearly paralyzed, I watched John immediately execute the “engine out” checklist.
Step 1: maintain control of the aircraft. Step 2: set the pitch (angle) and airspeed of the plane to maximize the amount of time it will stay the air with no engine.
As it turns out, an airspeed of 68 knots is optimal for a Cessna 172.
Once the pitch and airspeed were set, we had bought ourselves enough time to begin troubleshooting and call a “mayday.”
He then worked through the rest of the checklist and ultimately got the engine restarted.
In the first few weeks of the Coronavirus crisis, my work focused on facilitating the process (in person at first, and now virtually) for CEOs and Executive Leadership Teams as we developed and implemented business continuity strategies.
We got in front of the dry erase board, navigated the extreme pressure and pace, and created plans to ensure business survival. Executive leaders took the controls and actively flew the aircraft.
Most companies are now controlling expenses and optimizing their financial position. They are setting their pitch and airspeed to stay in the air as long as possible as though they are experiencing a complete engine failure.
“Once the pitch and airspeed were set, we had bought ourselves enough time to begin troubleshooting and call a “mayday.””
With active control in place and the plane at optimal pitch, it’s is time to work through a checklist of actions. What should you be doing next? Here are some recommendations to consider as you work to get the engine restarted:
- Actively engage specialists: Right now, you need access to specialists who can help you pivot and/or navigate the various financial resources available to you. Consider your local economic development organization or look for support from your professional associations.
- Keep your rhythm and focus on objectives: You worked hard early in this crisis to establish a daily rhythm and process for your Executive Team that kept them operating at the right level. Even when the pace starts to slow, don’t let your guard down and slip back into fighting brushfires all day.
- Stabilize, document and optimize: While many companies have sufficient business continuity plans, much is still figured out on the fly. Now is the time to document what you have, particularly new workflows, and look for ways to make them better and more secure.
- Look for signs of overload or burnout: Not all failure happens during the acute phase of a crisis. Stay intensely focused on your people. Who is still shouldering too much of the workload? Without having daily face-to-face contact, spotting those at risk and keeping morale high is more important than ever.
- Take good notes and keep good records: Chances are that a day of work right now feels like a week. That is what happens during a crisis, and without notes to refer back to, everything will begin to run together. Don’t lose the opportunity to learn from the big and small lessons this crisis is teaching you and your team.
- Start planning for recovery: As you are able, begin to dedicate resources to planning for the inevitable disruptions, bottlenecks, and resource limitations a “rush to return” could mean for your business. What can be done now to ensure you, your suppliers and even your customers make a smooth landing?
We have just emerged from several weeks of crisis, and even well-positioned companies are moving forward cautiously.
Use the above prompts as you begin to build your checklist for the next phase.
But don’t stop there—ask others in your industry what they are doing right now and what challenges they are facing.
How about taking time now to make sure the crisis did not create a new or increased risk exposure for your company by reviewing the list of Critical Functions?
Above all else, keep flying the plane, keep the nose at the right pitch, and stay disciplined as the Coronavirus situation continues to evolve and challenge all of us.
Have you established control of your “plane” and set the pitch? If so, what is on your checklist?