In my former career as an executive, I also flew a company airplane to get from one location to another in a timely manner. Although I liked the time savings, but I was a reluctant pilot at first. Thanks to the help of an amazing and patient flight instructor, however, I acquired the necessary skills and logged many hours of flying time. There are many similarities between flying an airplane and successfully running a business. Here are seven key steps to pilot your business to greater success.
Clarity of Direction
All flights start by knowing where you want to land the plane on the other end of your trip. Without a destination in mind, how can a flight be successful?
It is the same in your business. You need to know where you want the business to be at a specific point in time, such as December 31, 2022. If you don’t know where you want to be, you are unlikely to arrive at your destination or you won’t know it when you get there. It would be similar to just taking the plane out for a joy ride and coming back to the place where I started. Meandering is not a successful business strategy.
Have a Plan
Any lengthy flight requires a flight plan. This is where I would sit down with an aeronautical map and plot my course to ensure that I wouldn’t get off track and end up somewhere other than where I wanted to be. This usually resulted in marking out landmarks to use as checkpoints along the way to ensure I stayed on course and didn’t venture too far off the main flightpath. Whenever I flew to eastern Oregon, I had to be sure not to stray into U.S. military airspace around Boardman. This is where my plan kept me safe.
In business, we can set 90-day goals to ensure we are on the correct path and don’t venture too far away from our vision and direction. Your 90-day goals are checkpoints that will help you and your employees to stay on track.
Pre-flight the Airplane
Before every flight, it is the pilot’s responsibility to do a pre-flight check of the airplane to ensure that everything is operational. This is one of the most critical aspects of flying. I know an individual who crashed his airplane…twice…as a result of not pre-flighting the plane before he took off.
This is similar to doing a systems check of your business to make sure everything is working according to plan. Is your marketing plan in place and working? What about your sales plan? Is the accounting department keeping up with the data entry, accounts payables, and accounts receivables? Are you measuring and monitoring your key performance indicators (“KPIs”) for your business? All of the various aspects of your business, need to work together in harmony, to create a successful and sustainable future. Pre-flighting your business protects you from unexpected outcomes.
This is an area that seems to get pilots in trouble the most. Many private plane crashes are due to pilot error, and the most common problem is fuel. Either they run out of fuel, or the fuel is contaminated. When the pilot does a fuel check, he plugs a device into a small outlet in the bottom of the fuel tank to dip the tank in order to see if there is any water, which is heavier than fuel, in the tank. Water in your fuel can cause you to have major engine problems and potentially crash the plane.
The second check is to turn on the power and look at the fuel gauges. What do they read—full, half full?
Smart pilots take this one step further and don’t trust their fuel gauges, so they get on a ladder and dip a measuring device designed for the type of aircraft they are flying into the top of the tank to measure the actual amount of fuel in the tank.
The fuel in your business is cash flow. Without sufficient cash flow your business is going to crash and burn. Are you tracking the movement of cash in and out of your business with a cash flow projection? Are you measuring the daily, weekly, and monthly cash reports? Cash is critical to your success just like fuel is critical to flying an airplane.
Taking off requires a tremendous amount of power to generate enough lift to get the air flowing across the wings. But once you have enough speed, it’s easy to get lift and gain altitude.
In your business you can get lift and altitude by ensuring everyone is headed in the same direction, working for the same common vision, and focused on their 90-day goals. Clarity of direction and goals give you the lift you need to gain greater success in your business.
I have always considered flying the easy part. Once you have executed all the steps necessary to have a safe flight and taken off, flying the aircraft is relatively easy. But as a pilot, you can’t let down your guard. You must be on the lookout for other planes in your area that may not see you. As a business owner, you need to be looking out for anything that might impede your business success, such as your competition or government or environmental regulations.
One of the most critical aspects of flying is paying attention to the instruments on your dashboard. Reading and understanding those instruments is critical to survival. The instruments on the dashboard of your business are the profit and loss statement (P&L), balance sheet, and cash flow projection. These are your business instruments that help you determine whether your business is on track to be successful or not. It would be foolish to fly and not pay attention to your instruments, and it’s just as foolish to run a business without keeping an eye on these financial instruments.
While you are flying on a straight and level path toward the destination you have previously determined, you may need to adjust your course because there are other factors at play that could potentially push you off course, such as a crosswind. A crosswind may require you to make a course correction, which involves turning the yoke of the airplane in the direction you want to go. But if you let go of the yoke, the airplane will spin back in the direction it was previously headed due to momentum. To overcome that momentum, you must keep pressure on the yoke until you are once again in straight and level flight.
In business you must keep the pressure on the business yoke to ensure that everyone continues to head in the direction you have outlined and do not go back to business as usual. If you don’t keep some light pressure on the yoke of your business, individuals within your company will tend to go back to what they are most comfortable with, which may not be the direction you intend to go. That’s just human nature. You can keep pressure on the yoke by holding individuals accountable to the vision and their 90-day goals.
“Shut up, I’m landing the airplane”
For me and most pilots, landing the airplane is the most difficult part. You are basically trying to slow the airplane down and time the landing just right so that just as the wheels touch down, the airplane stalls. This means you have slowed the airplane down enough that you no longer have any lift, and the plane can’t fly any more. It is essentially a controlled crash. Landing required tremendous concentration and focus, and I would ask my passengers to not talk while I was landing the plane. Sometimes I would have to ask more than once.
In business many employees are being constantly distracted, costing you productivity and money. As a society we are addicted to distraction and the dopamine charge we get from all the electronic devices demanding our attention.
It takes a lot of concentration and intense focus for your business to achieve the level of success you are looking for. According to statistics, every time someone gets distracted it takes 23 minutes to get refocused. If someone is distracted multiple times a day, hours of productivity are lost. In an airplane, it only takes a few seconds of distraction to turn a great flight into a disaster.
We know the stakes are high for a pilot flying a plane, but a successful and sustainable business is a high-stakes effort too. If you want to gain greater success and increase top-line revenue and bottom-line profit, apply these seven steps with the professional discipline of a veteran pilot.
For more information on how to create a successful business in 2022, reach out to me at 503-312-3145 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also visit my website at http://email@example.com
Listen to my podcast Turning Complexity into Simplicity®
For more on this topic, you can find the book, Acceleration!, a collection of advice from a group of six business advisors and consultants across three continents and four countries who specialize in working with small and medium enterprises, available on Amazon.