Before the Plane Falls Out of the Sky

I’ve been talking in previous posts about the attitude of curiosity and experimentation which are constituent parts of working with NLP, in addition to flexibility of behavior.   For me these have been very compelling reasons (or perhaps I should be honest and say excuses!) to sometimes go off the beaten track to get a point across, especially when I’m trying to get a team to think outside the box when it comes to communication.   Building relationships between companies is always challenging and occasionally inspiration comes from strange places…….

In sales “CRM” is commonly used for Customer Relationship Management, basically the technology used to database current and potential customers and contact with them.  But the acronym CRM is also used for many other things – to name just a couple, Cultural Resource Management and Continuous Risk Management.  But it’s another one that caught my eye – Cockpit Resource Management.

Cockpit Resource Management originated in a 1979 NASA workshop on improving air safety, where they presented the fact that the primary cause of the majority of aviation accidents was human error.  Cockpit voice recordings of various air disasters tragically revealed air crew attempting to bring critical information to the pilot’s attention in an indirect and ultimately ineffective way.  By the time the pilot finally understood what was being said, it was too late.  These errors resulted from failures in communication, leadership and decision-making in the cockpit.   CRM was developed to foster an environment where the freedom to respectfully question authority is encouraged and training provided on processes for assertive communication.  In essence “see it, say it, fix it”.

Now respect for authority is a delicate subject for many organizations, especially ones where traditional hierarchical structures are valued and maintained.  In my case I was managing a relationship between a client and a service company.  In my world the client was the pilot – giving the orders (whether they had the experience and knowledge to do so or not), never to be challenged or contradicted.  The service company was the co-pilot, either uncomfortable with bringing bad news to the client or simply not stating their concerns clearly enough or loudly enough for that matter, for the client to understand and take action.  Our organizations needed to be trained to use and accept appropriate communication techniques, so that a pilot (the client) understood that the questioning of authority need not be threatening, but could be constructive and could increase the chances of project success.  Co-pilots (the service company) needed to understand the correct way to challenge that particular pilot and to question orders.

CRM training is now mandatory for most commercial pilots and has been credited as a very valuable safety tool , significantly contributing to the prevention of “pilot error” accidents.  It has saved planes and lives.

Now I can’t claim that I’ve used it to save lives, but perhaps it could tip the balance between project success and failure when it comes to communication.  It was a very useful topic to kick off my steering committee meeting and certainly got the teams thinking, to the extent they were all mentioning “that plane stuff” at meetings months later.   I’d even bet that they still remember it!  It also gave me the excuse to put up a great slide of a fighter plane sitting on the deck of a ship with a sunset behind it – all very Top Gun.  When I was preparing the presentation I did consider also playing  the Top Gun music to start the presentation….but, then my husband gently told me that this time I had gone too far……and no, I couldn’t try to get Tom Cruise as a guest speaker either!

© Jacqui Gatehouse and NLP THIRTEEN, 2010-2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jacqui Gatehouse and NLP THIRTEEN with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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