Is Your Flight Department Stuck? Create an Operating Plan in 12 Steps

Author By Steve Brechter

You’re about to begin another demanding, fast-paced day at the hanger.

Flights are arriving and departing. There are maintenance actions, weather concerns and much more. By its very nature, a flight department is a hectic environment.

That's one of the things most of us enjoy about business aviation. There usually are a lot of things happening, all at once.

Your flight department is likely very successful, having advanced through the stages of the IS-BAO registration process to Stage 2 or 3. Your safety record is outstanding and you seem to be satisfying the expectations of your executive passengers.

As a business aviation leader, it's likely that you don’t have a lot of time on your hands.

But do you ever yourself nagged by the persistent question, "Now what?"

The answer is actually quite simple: the flight department lacks a defined direction. There's no “north star” on the organizational horizon and therefore nothing to shoot for. It's a malady we often see in the “post IS-BAO world.”

Flight departments regularly view IS-BAO registration (we are big fans of IS-BAO, by the way) as a panacea. But following the concerted effort that went into attaining it, they feel a bit lost and are not quite sure what to do next.

So what should you do? Set a new heading for the flight department, that’s what!

The best way to set a new direction and continue the quest for excellence is to always have an active Operating Plan.

An Operating Plan defines the flight department's priorities and sets its direction for the next 12-18 months. It serves to deploy the organization's Vision, Mission & Values statements. If done right, the Operating Plan is created through a collaborative process that starts with the Leadership Team and ultimately involves the entire aviation organization.

How to Create an Operating Plan for your Flight Department

Step 1. Communicate

Take the time to communicate the Operating Plan initiative with your Leadership Team. Be very clear on what it is, why it's being developed and what you want to accomplish with it. Do this long before the planning meeting occurs, so that everyone understands the rationale, comes in aligned and is ready to go.

Step 2. Get Away

It’s difficult to get everyone’s attention when day-to-day issues are hovering right outside the conference room door. Effective planning requires undivided attention and that is best achieved away from the daily activities at the hangar. That way, attendees can dedicate their entire focus to the meeting. Find some location, perhaps at the corporate office, where everyone can be focused.

Step 3. Create a Conducive Environment

A large conference room with plenty of space to move about is essential. Ensure that cell phones are turned off except for breaks and during lunch. Encourage attendees to appoint someone to act on their behalf back at the hangar during the meeting. Ask all attendees for their complete energy and attention.

Step 4. Generate Ideas

Use structured brainstorming around highly focused criteria to make sure that all ideas get out. Create a freewheeling environment of “safe space” where ideas on organizational direction and improvement can be generated without judgment. Make sure everyone is actively engaged. Ensure that nobody goes down the “rabbit hole of solving.” That is a natural tendency, but it comes later.

Step 5. Capture Ideas

Use flip chart paper to capture every idea generated throughout each round of brainstorming. Encourage the use of “I Statements” throughout.

Step 6. Group Ideas

After capturing the ideas through brainstorming, group the ideas that are documented on the flip charts into common categories. Eliminate those that are duplicated and combine those that are similar. Make sure that every idea is stated in an actionable way. Generate an Operating Plan spreadsheet.

Step 7. Prioritize

Have the attendees determine which of the ideas/action items are most important and warrant immediate action. Take on no more than two or three actions at a time for implementation.

Step 8. Involve Everyone

Before you begin implementation, cascade the process throughout the flight department, giving all team members the chance to weigh-in on the work done by the Leadership Team. That'll ensure buy-in, and you'll get some great input that'll make the Operating Plan even better.

 Step 9. Create Development Opportunities

Ask for volunteers throughout the organization (not just among the Leadership Team) to become involved in and/or lead the implementation teams. Use these as development opportunities. Watch those who come forward to volunteer as they are likely your future leaders.

Step 10. Implement with Precision

Select the top two or three actions and clearly define who will do what and by when. Without this follow-through, most planning processes fall apart once attendees are “back at the ranch.”

Step 11. Follow-up Regularly

Assign short-cycle deliverables that are measured in days and weeks so that you can establish a crisp cadence. Review the status every week.

Step 12. Celebrate Achievement

When an action item is completed, communicate the outcome widely. Show a “completed” status on the Operating Plan spreadsheet so that everyone sees that things really are getting done. Leave the completed items on the spreadsheet so that the physical evidence of accomplishment continues to accumulate.


Best Practices Recommendation

We highly recommend that you use a facilitator for a process like this. There's really no effective way that you, as a leader, can play the role of facilitator and participant at the same time.

The Way Forward™

The steps noted above are actually an extract from Gray Stone Advisors' The Way Forward™ process, a highly interactive and engaging offsite experience designed to produce a 12-18 month Operating Plan for a flight department. It also develops and/or refreshes the organization's Vision, Mission and Values statements, as well as providing a flight department-specific set of Leadership Competencies.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss any aspect of this process further, feel free to give us a call or send us an email.