8 February 2018

Analysing threats, taking calculated risks, being decisive under intense pressure – RAF pilots and finance professionals have more in common than you might think.

RAF combat pilots and housing professionals don’t immediately strike you as having much in common – but do they share some of the same challenges?

Whether you’re a fast jet pilot or working in the housing sector, the challenges may seem completely disparate, but I believe there are many synergies. Finding the right people to fulfil the right jobs within your teams is always going to be a challenge. You need people in your teams who are passionate about what they do.

How do you create a collaborative working environment where everyone is empowered to be a decision maker?

Right from the very first day of Officer training we are taught to identify our own strengths and weaknesses. From there you go on to be part of a team and then to lead. It is essential that this is done right to take individuals from transactional leaders on to be transformational leaders with the ability to inspire and motivate their teams. When you then take up your role within squadrons, you have the basic tools of leadership, knowing that when you make a decision you will be held accountable for it. This alters the structure of a team from the classic pyramid to be more cylindrical. You obviously need someone to be in charge overall, but with a team of decision makers below them. This leads to empowerment from the start of a career.

As a pilot you’re used to making split-second decisions with huge implications – what insights can you give to housing leaders on being calculated and decisive under pressure?

Sometimes you don’t have all of the information, in fact in most cases if we waited until we had 100% of the facts it would be too late. 'Act on 80%’ is often a good point to go from. So often we want the perfect solution, we wait, we procrastinate and the decision gets delayed and delayed. An idea doesn’t have to be perfect, especially in the ever changing world in which we live. Agility and flexibility are probably more important… get the idea out there, use your team to tune the proposal, then act.

Pilots are constantly managing risk, with the wrong decision having potentially catastrophic results – what process do you follow to analyse and manage threats?

Threat analysis is at the heart of what we do. Before we go on any mission or training exercise we do a threat brief. You analyse and discuss the observable threats, which can be known (i.e. a strong crosswind for take-off and landing) and the unknown (i.e. an engine failure after take-off). There are also the latent threats, ones that will catch you out if you don’t spend the time to think about them. We discuss them all and use the ATM process to Avoid, Trap and thenMitigate them. Once they have been identified and analysed, if the worst case scenario then happens, hopefully it will not be a crisis, but you can follow the plan. We also use a decision making model in the world of aviation called DODAR (Diagnose, Options, Decide, Assign tasks, Review) which ensures that at the start of the decision making process everyone is on the same page. The leader shares what they think is the issue at hand, it then goes out for discussion, with everyone voicing their opinion (as some may see things from a very different position). The leader then takes on board everyone's opinion and makes the decision. The review at the end is always important as something may well have changed throughout the process.

Learning from your mistakes is crucial to driving improved decision making – what lessons can housing leaders take from the RAF debriefing process?

We debrief every time we fly. We run through the debrief funnel, asking the questions:

  • what happened (the facts)?
  • why did it happen (the cause)?
  • how (the cure… how can we improve)?

Everyone is empowered to speak up, we don’t use rank but formation positions, so even the junior members can query and challenge in a safe, learning environment. There is a ‘just culture’ (it is accepted that we all make mistakes and even have to deviate from the norm sometimes but there is zero tolerance for recklessness). This enables us to discuss mistakes freely and learn from them.

Mandy Hickson

Former RAF Combat Survival & Rescue Officer

Mandy Hickson was one of the first female pilots to serve in a front line Tornado GR4 squadron, playing an active role in the conflict in Iraq. After twenty years service, she now talks about the personal and strategic lessons learned with frankness and appropriately wry humour.

Mandy will be speaking at Finance Conference 2018 on the importance of defining targets, and building the resilience and collaborative environment you need to achieve them.

What can the housing sector learn from an RAF jet pilot?