Brought to You by the Letter “C”   

01.11.2016 | Post by Tony Kern

While watching an old re-run of the Emmy-winning children’s TV program, Sesame Streetwith my grandchildren, I was taken by the introduction where the host of the show told the audience that this episode was “brought to you by the letter C.”  Throughout the show, they highlighted words and values that began with that letter. It got me thinking about the simple nature of this message and if it might apply in our world. I chose five “C” words, all closely linked, that are relevant to our industry.

Let’s start with confidence, a virtue if properly appreciated and a lethal vice if not. Aviators are a funny bunch. We are extremely task-oriented and a fairly confident lot. On the whole, this is a very good thing. We don’t fear the unknown and don’t panic under pressure. But, confidence is an odd trait in that it can be authentic (when we are confident in areas where we are actually skilled and proficient); or, it can be false confidence (where we assume we are competent when we may not actually have the skills or recent experience to back it up). This can lead to serious errors in judgment, where egos trump our actual abilities, often getting us into messes from which we are not equipped to extricate ourselves.

The second word I want to consider is comfort. Comfort grows naturally with confidence. We do our jobs well, and we establish our reputations and gain the well-deserved financial and self-esteem benefits that go along with sustained superior performance. This holds true for both organizations and individuals. I recently visited an organization that had perhaps become too comfortable, and let its guard down. It took a fatal mishap to shake them out of their comfort zone. Remember, the natural state of the universe is entropy; in other words, a decay in the absence of change and growth. Our industry, based on a philosophy of maintaining proficiency to minimum regulatory standards, does little to foster a mindset of continuous improvement. Because of this, comfort can lead to hazardous states of complacency.

We all lead busy lives and self-improvement often takes a back seat to more immediate concerns with family and other outside interests. As individuals, we have to fight to keep the appropriate focus on improving, even if we are already meeting or exceeding regulatory and business benchmarks. The old line of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” is dangerous hogwash in high-risk industries. On the organizational level, comfort can also lead to complicity; the inability or unwillingness of managers to intervene when performance begins to drift. The final “C” word that ties all of these together is compliance, a topic to which I have devoted several columns, but one that is worthy of a few more words.

Keep in mind that compliance may be all that is required to meet regulatory minimums, but organizations large and small find it very difficult to sustain fully compliant actions. In data collected from more than 10,000 aviators and maintenance professionals over the past six years, my company has found that greater than 75 per cent of so-called professional pilots and maintenance engineers self-admit to “willfully and knowingly violating a policy or procedure within the past six months.” Although our research on why non-compliant behaviours in our industry continues, I suspect that it is tied closely to the comfort, complacency and complicity that naturally creep into our operations in the absence of a true continuous improvement process. No matter how good you are, you are never good enough.

I understand that there are no Sesame Street solutions for an industry as complex as aviation. Aviation is not child’s play.  But, perhaps if we focus a bit more on our “C” words, we won’t get a surprise visit from Oscar the Grouch.


Published in SKIES Magazine 

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