Survival Change: Creating and Sustaining Alliances

Author By Jim Lara
creating and sustaining alliances

Creating transformative “survival change” in any organization—especially in an aviation organization—can be difficult. To be successful, a Director of Aviation must be effective at creating and sustaining alliances with key external and internal influencers.

If you try to effect transformational change without alliances, you will fail. Guaranteed. And, this key is only one of the 10 critical keys to survival change.

Allow me to explain why …

The aviation organization that you have been asked to lead is at an inflection point. It was OK a few years ago.

That was then. But things have changed.

The host corporation is far different than it was. There’s new executive leadership. The firm’s competitive environment has intensified. And the global regulatory environment is certainly more demanding.

The aviation organization hasn’t kept pace.

The mantra for the aviation organization has been, “Keep your head down and stay off the radar.”

Now leadership at the hangar is way behind the power curve and may be left behind, permanently.

Yes, an inflection point has been reached.

You’re the Key

As I’ve said in survival change key No. 1, the first essential ingredient that the organization must have is Leadership. That’s YOU!

Let’s say that you’ve already succeeded in getting everyone’s undivided attention. You’ve created a compelling sense of urgency by clearly defining the situation and the optimal path forward. You’re fully communicating in a candid manner.

If so, then congratulations! You’ve satisfied one of the “Big 3” required of every leader. That is, “setting direction.”

In order to actualize the second and third components of the Big 3—“providing resources” and “removing barriers”—you’ll need to focus on creating and sustaining alliances.

What do these alliances look like? Who do you form them with? Why are they so important?

To answer these questions, you must now focus on creating both internal and external alliances simultaneously. Let’s first look at external alliances.

Identifying External and Internal Influencers

Your most important alliance is that which you form with your reporting executive (in the case of a corporate aviation organization) or your lead Board Member (in the case of an aviation company).

This individual is the critical source of your support from the corporation or the Board. You two must be completely aligned.

This is relatively easy in the early days because the reporting executive or the lead Director sees you as the path to success—in other words, “saving their bacon.” (Sometimes this type of support is more wishful thinking than anything else.)

Nevertheless, that crucial alignment must be sustained over a long period of time. It requires you to execute and show results quickly, and the results must be consistent with the “path forward” that you have defined.

And to achieve this and be successful, what you must gain is Political and Organizational support. Nothing meaningful can be started or sustained without it.

This is what you should think of as external alliance No. 1.

Next, you need to build alliances to provide the operational resources that you’ll need.

Financial resources are always a top concern. If you run out of cash (liquidity), budget or “open to spend,” you will fail.

Whether it’s referred to as capital or liquidity, you must completely appreciate that CASH is the lifeblood of every organization.

So, in the case of a corporation, a critical external alliance must be developed with the CFO. In the case of an aviation company, this alliance will likely be with your banker and investor group. This is external alliance No. 2.

Coincident with the above, significant focus must be placed on your clients, customers or travelers. Whoever is generating the “demand” that will be delivered by your organization deserves your undivided attention. Are you capturing all of their demand? Are you satisfying and hopefully anticipating all of their needs?

Is your organization creating “raving fans” that are stimulating a positive buzz for your organization in the marketplace or within the corporation?

Remember, it’s at least 10 times harder to gain a new client or customer than it is to increase the volume of demand with existing customers/clients.

And, without travel demand, there’s really no reason for your organization to exist. So, key customers and clients are external alliance No. 3.

“Check Your Six”

Now let’s take a look inside your organization. Who do you have inside that truly and without a doubt has your back?

Too often, the honest answer is NOBODY!

Whenever Gray Stone Advisors accepts a turnaround engagement, we never, ever, go in alone. We work with a team of trusted colleagues to share leadership responsibility and accountability—and view things from a variety of perspectives.

A diverse team enables us to maintain a “forward lean” since we don’t have to devote resources to “checking our six.”

That means a trusted colleague is always watching our back, at least during the initial days/weeks when the situation is being stabilized.

Find Internal Strength

When it comes to your internal team, do your best to play the cards that you’re dealt. In our experience, it’s seldom necessary or productive to hire all new employees.

It is, however, essential to define the going forward plan, communicate it early and often, specify the roles that need to be filled, and then put out a call for leaders from within the organization. With the direction defined, it’s up to the organization’s incumbents to make their decision—are they “in” or “out.”

What you can’t tolerate is someone who declares that they’re “in,” but then acts like they’re “out.”

However, when talented individuals can be recognized and promoted from within the existing workforce, you can count on developing and leveraging significant organizational strengthening and trust.

Tapping Functional Areas

In most aviation organizations, there are five functional leaders focused upon Scheduling/Dispatch, Maintenance, Business Administration, Flight Operations, and Client, Customer or Corporate Interface. It’s essential that you establish your organization-wide leadership team very early on.

To do that, consider“growing” these siloed functional leaders into true organizational leaders.

Corporate Business Partners

For those aviation organizations supporting the travel needs of a host corporation, there are some key, corporate-level access points that must be developed.

It is highly effective to have these key corporate functions represented on Aviation’s Leadership Team. The specific access points will vary.

Some of the most common among them are: Human Resources, IT, Security, Finance/Accounting and Legal. Representatives from these areas must come to the table with decision-making authority, a commitment to making a true difference and the ability to commit resources to make it happen.

These are essential, corporate-level alliances that will enable you to cut through “bureaucratic red tape” without expending a significant amount of political capital.

And so, once you have created these internal and external alliances, they must be nurtured and sustained.

You will do this by communicating often, with great candor and transparency. You must have their best interests as your core focus. You must set them up to win knowing that transformational leadership is never, ever, a zero-sum game.


Next, we will focus on survival change key No. 3: developing and defining “cultural touchstones.” That is, your aviation organization’s vision, mission and values.