Ever heard the proverbial story about the frog that was placed in a pot of water and swam around joyfully, never noticing that the heat was being turned up higher and higher until it eventually killed and cooked him?
There’s an important lesson in this story.
In business, you must pay close attention to the subtle environmental cues. Unless you are continuously vigilant regarding changes in attitude, direction, preference, etc., you’re potentially at risk.
In business aviation, one of the best ways to ensure that you are attentive to what’s happening is to make external communications a top priority. That is, always keep an open, ongoing dialog between your flight department and the corporate office.
The old model that cautioned you to keep your head down at the airport and stay off corporate’s radar screen went away long ago. I personally don’t know of a single flight department where that strategy worked. And it’s certainly not a wise choice now given today’s fast-paced and results-driven business world.
As aviation director, you need to make a compelling case for your flight department and communicate it well. You need to clearly depict the benefits of business aviation and the value you’re creating for your parent company. And you must listen carefully to the often subtle cues that are coming back your way.
4 Ways to Improve Flight Department Communications with Corporate
But how do you make the connection with corporate? How do you make sure you are communicating effectively and picking up all the signals that they’re sending your way??
Here are four sure-fire ways to guarantee you’re communicating effectively with your reporting executive and key influencers at corporate:
1. Communicate Regularly with your Reporting Executive
Woody Allen once said: Eighty percent of life is in showing up. That could not be truer in business aviation. If you want to be considered a ‘player’ at corporate and have your aviation organization be seen in the same way as other operating units in the company, it’s time to go on the offensive and step up your communication.
The place to start is with your reporting executive. He or she is your advocate at corporate and it’s your responsibility to ensure that they’re fully informed and equipped to act in that capacity.
So take charge. If you don’t already have it, ask for a weekly meeting with your reporting executive. If corporate is a distance away and it’s inconvenient to get there, do it by phone. Even better, have a face-to-face meeting online via Skype or your corporate teleconferencing system. Ask for only a half-hour a week. Do it at 7:30 a.m. if need be. Whatever is offered, make it work.
Always frame the conversation with a brief PowerPoint slideshow or agenda to stay focused.
- Begin with a short operating summary of the past week.
- Highlight what to expect operationally in the coming week.
- Discuss a strategic issue showing that you’re equally focused on the long-term, that you have a long-range plan for the department and are heading that way.
Frequency is the primary factor here. Want to hear your reporting executive talking-up aviation at corporate? Get on their calendar each week.
2. Show Up
Not long ago in a client engagement, Gray Stone Advisors recommended that an aviation director hold his all-hands flight department meeting at the corporate office. The objective was to increase the flight department team’s engagement with corporate, and for aviation to become more visible. You can imagine our surprise when we found out that half of the department was not badged for access to the corporate office, and that many didn’t even know how to get there!
Hold department meetings at corporate. It doesn’t mean that you should run up and down the halls waving your arms to let everyone know you’re there, but do try and be quietly visible. Pick a few key administrative assistants with whom you want to build a closer relationship and stop by to chat with them during a break. Visit your financial analyst or perhaps an executive traveler who can give you a few minutes of his or her time. Just taking the time to stop by and say ‘hi’ will pay significant dividends.
You’ll be amazed at what a brief, face-to-face encounter can do to strengthen a relationship.
3. Provide a Seat at the Table
One of the most powerful ways to increase advocacy for aviation at corporate is to provide a ‘seat at the table’ for your key functional group partners. That includes HR, Finance, IT or whomever it is at corporate that you depend upon for the execution of your aviation mission.
A ‘seat at the table’ means that you make them fully contributing members of your leadership team. When your team meets, they are present. When an important decision needs to be made, they are part of it. Ensuring that they are fully engaged gives you better outcomes, especially as your functional group supporters become part of the decision-making process, and not just brought in when you need help after the fact.
It’s a ‘knights of the roundtable’ concept. Read the tales of King Arthur to see how effective that approach can be.
4. Interview your Frequent Travelers
When your executive passengers get on or off the airplane, don’t fool yourself into thinking that a quickly uttered “nice job” means that everything was top-notch. Today’s business executives are hard-charging people who have little time for conversation. They are most likely focused on the meeting they will be attending at the other end of the flight, or the outcome of the meeting they just attended.
Little things can become major irritants, even with the most cordial of executives. The catering might be off or you might be bringing the wrong newspapers or periodicals on board. You’ll rarely find out these things in a short walk with them from the airplane to the car.
At least once a year, take the time to get on your frequent travelers’ calendars. Talk to them and find out what’s on their minds. Request only 15 minutes and ask open-ended questions. Prepare yourself for a tight and seemingly abrupt conversation in the beginning. But once they find out that you really care and are truly invested in making their lives easier, things change.
Their feet often go up on their desk. They relax, lean back and get more comfortable. They start telling stories. You transition into a trusted advisor role rather than simply the person who flies the airplane.
We’ve seen 15-minute meetings like this go on for an hour or more. Believe me when I say that today’s business executives typically don’t have many people asking them how their lives can be made better.
All this may sound deceptively simple, but it’s powerful stuff. All it takes is a commitment on your part. It’ll be among the best investments you make with your time.
We’re sure that you have some effective ways of improving communication with corporate, and we’d like hear what they are. We invite you to share them with us below in the comments section.
And most importantly, don’t be like that frog in the pot. Be vigilant and make sure the water isn’t getting too hot!
If you’re looking for guidance on how to better align your flight department with corporate, send me a quick email for a no-obligation discussion.