Welcome to our – we almost can’t believe it – 8th and last blog from our series “the #clearedtoland success principle”.  

For those who don’t know our 8 core points of the #clearedtoland success principle: They are simple and immediately implementable tools for successful precision landing in your professional and private life. You can find them – along with our entire offering – on our website at www.clearedtoland.ch.

Have you ever had that uneasy feeling in your stomach when you realize you’ve made the same mistake again? Surely, right? Who doesn’t know that feeling? It’s enough to drive you up the wall. It would be nice if it were easier to avoid mistakes in the future…

Debriefing is a recapitulation about a mission or project or the information thus obtained. It is a structured process after an exercise or event to review actions taken. That’s one of the official definitions….so far, so unclear, right?

Because actually you still don’t know what is really meant by it and especially why the #clearedtoland crew is so convinced of it that it even made it into our 8 key points.

Let’s go a little further and take a look at all the nice prejudices against pilots: Sunnyboys with sunglasses, drinking lots of coffee while the autopilot is flying….these are the harmless ones. However, as is so often the case, the reality is slightly different.

Because in our eyes, a pilot has to have one character trait above all: he or she has to be able to take criticism!

No other industry in the world lives a proactive error culture as naturally as ours. It is part of our DNA, so to speak, that we question everything, including ourselves. Constantly. 

“Fail Forward”…. is our motto.

We learn from our mistakes, we learn from technical errors, and in the process we try to become continually safer. We have succeeded in doing this well over the last few decades. 

If you think safety is expensive, wait for the accident! – this sentence is formative and also present in the minds of most decision-makers in airlines. However, the price of an accident has been paid very often. Most accidents have cost many lives. In the early days of commercial aviation, the rate was still around 12 fatal accidents per million aircraft movements. In 2019, that rate was 0.11. So we can rightly say that there has been a steady improvement in onboard safety over the last few decades.

But how was this achieved?

By realizing that the iceberg principle prevails in this environment. The tip of the iceberg is the accident. But underneath, well hidden beneath the surface of the water, a multitude of mistakes happen every day. By those responsible trying to prevent these mistakes, the likelihood of an accident can be dramatically reduced.

But how do you get a look under the water surface, so to speak, to see the iceberg in its full extent? 

The introduction of a safety management system is the key to success here. A decisive principle applies: “When you know where you are, you can be where you want to be.”

This formative sentence basically deals with the fact that you have to know your environment, your structures, but also your personality well in order to be able to act safely. This is also reflected in the key point #6 “Focus on your horizon” …. we have also addressed this before.

For airlines, this means that the operational risks of flight operations have to be known in detail in order to be able to carry out effective risk management. This is achieved on the one hand with familiar tools such as audits, but also with well-established reporting systems.

Another important aspect is “flight data monitoring”. This involves the statistical evaluation of each individual flight and its parameters in order to identify trends at an early stage and to be able to launch possible counter-campaigns.

Crews receive intensive training in CRM (Crew Resource Management) to strengthen soft skills around communication, leadership and cooperation.

Anyone who thinks this would only work in aviation is mistaken. The basics of a Safety Management System (SMS) can be implemented in almost any industry or sector. Those who work proactively to prevent mistakes from leading to accidents in the first place will be more successful in the long run.

Part of the SMS includes a well-established and proactively lived feedback culture…and here we are back at the opening sentence: we are truly convinced that every pilot must be capable of criticism above everything else.

We don’t do a check, a flight, or even a single landing without discussing it afterwards. And always with the purpose of – and now we come to the essentials – Continuous Improvement. It’s not about pointing the finger at someone and finding someone to blame. It’s about identifying potential where measures can be taken to improve safety.

All feedback must therefore meet three criteria in particular.

It has to be

– factual

– constructive

– value-free.

Emotional judgements or even personal accusations have no place here.

What is very important, however, is that we also deliberately address the positive points. And there always are.

Essentially, the following questions need to be answered:

What were the special features? Where were there mistakes and where is there potential for improvement? What went well? What can we do better next time and how?

Here, too, we provide strength-oriented feedback at all times, no finger-pointing, but rather concentration on what we can do better in the future, i.e. concentration on continuous improvement and innovation.

Hierarchies play absolutely no role in the debriefing. Even the youngest flight attendant is required to give feedback to the captain. Very often, the result of a debriefing is a report, which often leads to an actual action. Be it a change in procedures, an adjustment of checklists or simply of the product. It doesn’t always have to be the big steps, quite the opposite. It’s the little drops that, when used steadily, hollow the stone or increase security in our environment.

Of course, such processes only work because, firstly, they are supported from above in exactly the same way and, secondly, because all those involved are also really professionally trained in them. This is also part of the annual CRM training already mentioned. 

As consultants, we often experience that members of the management team simply leave as soon as the serious situation is supposedly over. It is then left to the employees to deal with the outcome.

In our opinion, this is a very big mistake, because looking back is an important part of situation management, because change can be the new normal!

Wherever people work, mistakes are inevitable. Thus, the so-called “human factor” is the main cause of accidents in aviation as well. 

But how can we implement this knowledge in our professional or private environment?

In agile working methods, the retrospective or debriefing is firmly anchored as a ritual, but it should also be made routine in traditional project management.

Within the company, it is the task of the executives or project managers to take on a corresponding role and thus also be an integral part of the process. 

Because strategic recovery is just as important here. Most companies today have some kind of emergency and crisis management, but have no idea how to organise and plan recovery. This is where the key difference can be made to set you apart from the competition. The faster you return to normal operations, the faster the company will recover economically from a crisis or change process.

It is important to debrief promptly, because after the project is before the project. 

It is about taking stock. In addition, debriefing is an effective method for documenting project experience.

In the cockpit, we don’t just debrief at the end of the flight. We also constantly do so-called cruise checks during the flight to make sure that all instruments and the external situation are in order. This is also how we should approach longer projects and do a short debriefing after important or critical phases to see how everything went and whether you are still on course.

What a debriefing is not: it is not a blame game. 

It’s not about finding culprits when something didn’t go the way it should have. This is where a company’s culture of error comes into play again.  A positive error culture is the cornerstone of successful debriefings. 

Ideally, rules and an agenda should be established to guide the debriefing and to which all participants should adhere.

When people treat each other with respect and follow the ground rules, debriefings are a simple and effective tool. They bring everyone involved to the same denominator and contribute to collective learning. It is about recognizing failures, learning from them and avoiding a repetition. And! to strengthen and anchor positive things!

In summary, it can be said that debriefings – properly conducted – only bring advantages: 

– Creating transparency in projects

– Collective learning based on facts and without recriminations

– Use of accumulated experience for future projects – “learning from experience”

– Preventing repeated mistakes – “learning from mistakes”.

– Training and strengthening of communication within the team 

– Promoting the performance and quality of teams

– Promoting awareness of more complex tasks, projects or organizations

Also in our roles as coaches and consultants but also in our private roles it is important to debrief and reflect regularly, i.e. we ourselves take coaching sessions to reflect and develop personally.

And what often comes up in flying de-briefings? 

It needs a better flight plan next time. And thus we close our own #clearedtoland closed loop and would be back to our core point 1: Make a Flight Plan. So let’s start again from the beginning…

Those who would like to know more and/or book us for a keynote, workshop, coaching or consulting are invited to visit our website at www.clearedtoland.ch. Of course, it is also possible to request customized offers. Feel free to drop by and send us an email at info@clearedtoland.ch.