Take charge in a crisis

Someone told me a great, yet also sad, story recently that is a valuable analogy for business. It concerns a crashing aircraft and how the problem was managed at the time.

The story, as I remember it goes like this: a transatlantic flight crashed on its way across the ocean, and all souls were lost. The flight recorder took a long time to recover, but when it was found and analysed it showed the following.

All had been going to plan, all the passengers had been fed, the films were running and the pilot was off having a break as he is meant to do at this stage of the flight. The second officer had been having a snooze as well and the third officer was in charge on the flight deck where the aircraft was on auto-pilot.

All was well, and going to plan when a problem struck: some sensors that controlled the aircraft froze due to some unusually cold weather at the altitude they were flying at. When they froze, the autopilot lost some inputs and sounded an alarm, it also took the aircraft into a shallow dive.

Responding to the alarm the third officer, who was seated in the right hand seat, pulled the controls to raise the nose of the aircraft, trying to address the dive.

Also responding to the alarms were the second officer, who climbed into the other seat and the pilot who quickly recovered from his resting compartment and returned to the cockpit.

On arrival, the Captain did not takeover in the pilot seat, even though he was the most experienced man on the plane, he chose instead to give advice to the other crew members, helping them as best he could. And they needed help: the instruments were giving out no information, as they had ceased to receive data from the aircraft’s sensors. So the team were flying blind. And they were continuing to dive, albeit slowly, possibly too slowly to notice. And as the aircraft slowed, so it caused its engines to stall as the airspeed was too low to keep them running.

Around this stage some instruments started to come back to life: the frozen sensors had thawed at the warmer, lower altitude, but the information made no sense. The details were interpreted and rejected, the crew seemed to be adamant that there was no way that the aircraft had lost that much height in so short a time.

To make matters worse, and to confirm the height of the aircraft, the ground proximity alarm sounded warning the crew that they were now in danger of hitting the ground.

It was now time to pull up and avoid contact with the ground, so the Captain ordered the third officer to raise the nose. Sadly, the nose had been raised throughout and as a result there was nothing else to pull the aircraft up.

When the 3rd officer reported this the Captain was heard to say: “Oh shit, we’re going to crash”.

They were the last words on the recorder.

So what has this to do with business?  Well how about, when trouble strikes:

  • Find out the facts about what was happening before the problem occurred
  • Make sure you know who is doing what and why.
  • Believe the facts, don’t reject them and absorb new information
  • If you are the person who should be in charge, take charge and deliver what you are paid to do.