Arguably, the United States Air Force is the finest fighting team of skilled professional aviators ever assembled. Highly trained airmen and women are prepared for almost any situation; combat, rescue, reconnaissance, even entertainment at air shows.
It seems almost incomprehensible that professionals with so much knowledge, skill and understanding of the high stakes at which they operate, could make fatal errors. But they do. Often.
In the early 2000s, the Air Force accumulated mishap data from the previous decade, which revealed that about 80% of aviation accidents were caused by pilot error. Not surprisingly, many of those errors were caused by the inability of the flight crews to process the information flow they received and execute effectively. These pilots could no longer assess situations, danger, or develop life-saving responses to the data because they were too busy with other things. In the Air Force, this is known as Fatal Task Saturation; the effect of too many things being asked of a pilot at one time.
In the air, the first rule is to fly the airplane. “Aviate, Navigate and Communicate” is the common phrase known to all fighter pilots. When handled in the appropriate order, tasks generally do not overwhelm pilots. So, what is the phrase that protects your frontline employees from a terrible crash and burn situation?
More and more, employees are being instructed by managers to accept more and more responsibility for tasks, events and jobs that tend to happen simultaneously. Most often, the people who are required to carry out these responsibilities are far less trained than an Air Force pilot, so is it any wonder that we see so many employees who fail in their jobs? Workloads in radio during the second decade of the 21st Century are estimated to be quadruple or quintuple those encountered by workers in the late decades of the 20th Century. Reduced staffs, more deadlines, a greater interaction with foreign or developing technologies, and a greater demand for skills for which the employee was not originally retained, causes stress, lack of extended focus, and, ultimately, system failure.
In addition to training, an area that has suffered tremendously in recent years due to budget constraints, employees require a more focused and cohesive set of operational orders. This important adjustment is one in which the entire senior management staff must participate.
- What is the key objective of any individual task?
- Does the addition of other tasks compliment that objective, or should the other tasks be relegated to a secondary level of attention. In other words, if the first task is vital to aviating, do the new tasks help the pilot to aviate, or are they to better serve the secondary and tertiary goals of the pilot? The same is true for your staff. Which is more important; On-air performance or constant “tweeting” from the studio? By the way, as much as you’d like to say both, you can’t. Ultimately, one is more important than the other. You choose.
- Has your frontline person been given real training on all tasks ordered, or was that person effectively given a $100 Million airplane and asked to fly it based on old experience? You can guess the result of that folly.
- When your frontline person makes a mistake, do you communicate the error, discuss how it might have been avoided, and then take steps to ensure a successful execution the next time, in an environment that is devoid of finger pointing, or do you handle it another way? If you follow the Air Force debrief policy, you’ll achieve more success, faster.
- Do your people understand their mission? In detail? Have you explained why every task is important, and on what scale of importance they present themselves? Stratifying tasks and discussing their role is as important the execution itself.
- Do you maintain a checklist for every set of tasks? Flaps before wheels, on-air content before tweeting before Instagram selfies. Even the best pilots need to be reminded of the optimal order in which to execute tasks.
- Do you leave your email alone, waiting until an appropriate time in your schedule to review and respond, or do you let email distract you throughout the day?