Aviate, Navigate, Communicate — crisis management (The Leadership Series)

Big Red Car here.

So The Boss is up skiing in Steamboat Springs in Colorado.  I wonder what is going to happen with Colorado and the legalization of marijuana.  I don’t see The Boss smoking any weed, but who knows.  Away from home and all, eh?

 The kids are all going to be up there for Christmas so it will be very festive.  Sounds like a lot of fun.  And, most importantly, they have already gotten a lot of snow.

Chewing the fat

The other day we were up in Georgetown and The Boss and his pal went for barbecue and that gave me and the Bonanza — that’s the airplane — some time to visit.

A Bonanza is like a Mercedes Benz or a BMW, a nice tight piece of engineering.  German engineering though the Bonanza is built in Wichita, Kansas by Beechcraft which is part of Raytheon.  The Beechcraft division is going through some financial problems just now — hey, aren’t we all?

So, we got to talking about what happens when you are at 10,000 feet and something goes wrong.  What do you do?

Well, the Bonanza was quite miffed at the suggestion that anything — ANYTHING — would ever go wrong with the Bonanza but was finally able to address the question as long as we both agreed it was “hypothetical” and was most likely to be pilot error.  Sheesh!

To a pilot, the mantra has to be — AVIATE, NAVIGATE, COMMUNICATE — and a good pilot knows that and never forgets it.  This is the emergency procedure that every pilot has to memorize and put into play when the time comes.

Real World Emergency

The Bonanza, which is really a solid guy and not stuck up like a Mercedes or a BMW, told me a story of how when The Boss and a friend were flying to Natchez, Mississippi one time  — a student pilot just north of Houston jumped out of the student pilot’s freakin’ plane.  The jumper pilot was flying with an instructor and the student jumped and the instructor freaked out.  The Boss heard this all developing on the radio.

“Oh, my God, my student just jumped out of the airplane!”  That will get your heart beating.

The Boss’s friend was a flight instructor and applied the emergency rule of AVIATE, NAVIGATE, COMMUNICATE to get the other instructor to focus on the issue at hand.

First, he got the other flight instructor to secure the door through which the student had jumped.  He told him to ensure that the plane was under control and flying correctly.  AVIATE

Then, he got him to hit the Direct To button on the GPS and plot a course back to Hooks Field from which the instructor and his now missing instructor had departed.  NAVIGATE

Then he turned him over to ATC (air traffic control) to shepherd him back to home base.  COMMUNICATE

The Boss’s friend had gotten the understandably shaken up flight instructor to AVIATE, NAVIGATE, COMMUNICATE.

Aviate, Navigate, Communicate

In business, we often find ourselves confronting or being confronted by crises of all types.  It might be an unexpected loss of a key member of the company’s team due to a medical problem.  Or an unexpected regulatory challenge.  Whatever, hopefully it is not as earth shattering as a student pilot jumping out of an airplane from 10,000 feet.  It may just feel that way.

In much the same manner, a seasoned business executive will AVIATE, NAVIGATE, COMMUNICATE in an analogous manner.

The first thing to do is to keep the business functioning and to ensure that it has the resources to continue to function as it works itself through the crisis.  AVIATE

Then it is important to make a preliminary plan and to refine it as more facts become known.  Guide the business through the crisis with a plan.  NAVIGATE

Make sure that everyone — employees, stakeholders of all kinds, shareholders, owners and the Board — knows what is going on and what the preliminary plan is going to be.  Keep this level of communication at a constantly high level until the crisis is overcome or the crisis becomes manageable and the outcome no longer threatens the survival of the company.

This programmed thinking is an emergency action plan that is the same as a pilot’s dependency on AVIATE, NAVIGATE, COMMUNICATE.


One last bit of advice would be to make sure that you “confess” what you do and do not know at any instant in time.  This is an action that must be focused and used sparingly.  Some information should be communicated to the Board or your bankers but not necessarily be released to others.  Some information may be “material” threatening the value of publicly traded securities.  This material information may be required to be communicated to shareholders under the guidance of SEC Reg FD — fair disclosure.

It is always important to acknowledge the magnitude of the crisis even for your own peace of mind.

But, hey, what the Hell do I know?  I’m just a Big Red Car.  So, tell me about a time you encountered a crisis and whether you were able to extricate yourself — did you AVIATE, NAVIGATE, COMMUNICATE?

Do you recognize this television show theme and who it honors?


Merry Christmas!