Aviate, Navigate, Communicate . . .

Aviation is proof that given, the will, we have the capacity to achieve the impossible.    ~Eddie Rickenbacker

Three verbs are drilled into the head of every Navy pilot during flight training; three little words that continually save lives. Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.  At all times, but especially in times of trouble, first you have to keep the plane safely in the air, second figure out your current and intended direction, and third, talk to external controllers and your crew.

Over the past several decades that we have been involved in many successful turnarounds, business transformations and growth opportunities, these three verbs have been present in every successful engagement we have been a part of or watched from the sidelines.

The successful rescue and return to profitability of Ford Motor Company has been a classic example of these three principles:  Aviate, Navigate and Communicate.

Alan Mulally and his senior executive team knew the first task was to “Aviate”, that is, keep the company from spinning out of control and crashing into bankruptcy.  They quickly moved  to secure the viability of the company through selling assets and raising money. They did this by aggressively restructuring the massive organization to operate profitably to be in line with current market conditions and buyer preferences.

Second, they had to “Navigate”, that is develop a clear plan and roadmap that was in line with the realities of todays global auto marketplace.  Whereas previously the various divisions of Ford had been operating as independent businesses, often competing with each other for customers and not sharing best practices and processes, the new plan was very simple: One Ford: One Team, One Plan, One Goal.

And the detail of the new strategic plan is staggering, with over 300 slides reviewed by the senior team every week in a 2 1/2 hour strategic business review.  In the early days of the turnaround, the team met daily and went over and over the 300 important metrics and programs that were the key to getting to their goal: “An exciting viable Ford delivering profitably growth for all”.  And the all is very specific: Customers, Employees, Dealers, Investors, Suppliers, Unions, and Communities.

Third, they “Communicated”, and they continue to communicate the plan in every speech, every interview, every internal meeting, every chance they have to tell the new Ford story.  Watch any video of Alan Mulally, Mark Fields, Lewis Booth or other Ford senior executives being interviewed in the press and you will hear the new Ford story over and over again.  One Ford, One Plan, One Goal is communicated to Ford employees around the world and repeated often.

You don’t have to be in a turnaround or rescue situation to apply the Aviate – Navigate – Communicate principles inside your organization.  In fact, by using this approach as “the way we do business”, you might just fly higher.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

E | john@johnrchildress.com      T | +44 207 584 3774      M | +44 7833 493 999

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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