Operational stress follows a sine wave and those waves will vary in amplitude. COVID-19 is one of those peak moments with an abnormally high magnitude. Understanding that these challenges come and go will allow us to take a longer view of the situation. Effectively using this slow operational period to improve performance coming out of this crisis will be the differentiator between winners and losers in the inevitable recovery. Naval Aviation faced many periods when flying hours were hard to come by, maintenance dollars were at a minimum and quality maintainers were hard to retain. We experienced increased risk due to waning operational proficiency and ready equipment for both our aircrew and maintainers. That was, and always should be, the time we doubled down on Operational Leadership, Efficiency and Safety training. In the military, we had no choice. Our mission and oath were to defend our nation from all enemies, foreign and domestic. The oath didn’t mention, “unless you’re experiencing a stressor like COVID-19 or a bear market”. Business Leaders don’t depend on an oath of office to force preparation, adaptability and leadership. Good business leaders know it’s required to achieve mission success. In the military, it’s taking care of your people and maximizing national security; in business, it’s taking care of your people and maximizing profitability.
Cost cutting during times of economic stress is a very common organizational business reaction. This needs to be done to keep the company solvent. The mistake that is often made is that support personnel, performing training and safety functions, are often slashed to the bone or eliminated completely, while operations continue with reduced staff. This assumes that the operations team can just pick up the load for the support personnel. This sends a poor message by communicating that safety is only important when times are good enough to afford it, but not as important in times of stress. The same could be said for training staff. A valid argument can be made that safety and training should only be cut proportionally to operations tempo, thereby communicating that safety is just as important, regardless of the economic picture. The more astute longer view leader will invest a little more in innovative training approaches to ensure he or she has a better equipped reserve force when the economic picture improves. This is where smart leaders gain the advantage!
The core Navy mission of defending our nation and its allies didn’t go away during times of low operational tempo. We were driven to train more on process and procedures, using safety-focused media, simulators, tactical lectures and written exams. These actions temporarily mitigated atrophy from the lack of actual airborne training. We merely shifted emphasis to innovative ground training that would normally have time shared with flying missions. Our determination to double down on leadership and safety slowed the degradation of our skill level and allowed us to ramp back up beyond our “pre-crisis” skill level as soon as possible and certainly faster than our nearest competitor in the same situation.
One constant all business leaders face is that unforeseen challenges will always emerge. The difference between great leaders and average leaders is the actions they take when attacking those challenges. Doubling down on your team and finding that adaptable training program that equips them to operate safely and win is that difference through the operational stress sine waves.