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  • Rob

Aviate – Navigate - Communicate

How to successfully return to business post-lockdown. A framework from an ex-fighter pilot.

It seems that from a business perspective, we have survived the initial shock of the Covid-19 pandemic. The extreme measures that were taken by governments around the world have helped to stop the doomsday scenario and kept the economy breathing at the very least. However, the focus must now be on how to bring businesses OUT OF LOCKDOWN and back to normalcy.

I was speaking to friends the other day who both have a similar background to myself - we had the privilege to fly fast jets in our 20s. Sadly, the conversation turned from war stories to wondering how airline pilots will keep their jobs as most flights have been cancelled. My friend, who works at a major airline, said that pilot training has not changed since we were flying, they even use the familiar phrase used in the flying world of ‘Aviate, navigate, communicate’ still! At first, I thought surely training must have evolved over the past 30 years but then I began to think that perhaps there is something in the longevity of this simple phrase.

For non-pilots out there, this phrase relates to when there is an emergency in the aircraft. Pilots need to follow these three actions in this exact order:

Aviate - Fly the aircraft, too many people have flown into mountains looking for a physical manual.

Navigate - Get the plane moving in the right direction, preferably towards the safest landing site vs. heading out to sea.

Communicate - let the world know you have an emergency so they can move people out of your way.

As I think about the crisis (or emergency) that companies are facing now to bring their firms out of lockdown, I wonder if this simple phrase might just help?

Aviate - keep the company going!

Most management teams have been working overtime to avoid as much disruption to the company as possible. How can we cut costs? How can we tweak my offering to bring in some cash? Is there something else we can do with our assets? I have been amazed at the ingenuity and creativity of shop owners to survive e.g. I love that our local café has morphed into a mini- supermarket focused on speciality local products and sourcing flour and eggs. The trick here is not to get flustered by what the longer-term future might hold but to ensure that you are still there, in some format, when business returns.

Navigate - where are the next opportunities?

Now that the company is still alive, where do you think the opportunities lie? If you are an events company, how do you ‘point’ towards opportunities to capitalise on online collaboration platforms for example? I do not want to trivialise the extreme pressure being felt by industries severely affected by the current situation, but we need to try. Stay up-to-date with government policies, read the latest blogs from thought leaders and reach out to people you think might have ideas. In short, you have to point in SOME direction, give it your best shot and move on.

Communicate - be clear to employees, customers and shareholders

I was talking to a head-hunter the other day and he mentioned that one of the most popular roles companies are hiring now are in the communications field. Every company has a disaster recovery plan of some sort (or they should do!), but Covid-19 has just thrown the mother of all disasters at companies and many are on the back foot with their comms. Once you have the company stabilised and pointed to what you think is the best direction to communicate, just keep communicating! There is nothing worse than silence in a crisis to spook people.

Order matters!

Just like in a plane, a company must 1) stay alive 2) point in the right direction and 3) let people know what is going on. The KEY thing is that if things change (and they always do), you start again. With the new change, is the company safe? Are we still going in the right direction? What do I need to tell people about any changes?

Times are extremely tough on all companies. The lessons from thousands of pilot training hours might give you at framework to calm down and get the plane (aka company) back to safety.

A version of this article appeared on LinkedIn earlier this year.

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