What fighter pilots can teach your business

If you're a business who is struggling through the pandemic aftermath, don't give up. Instead, create a plan.
Air Force jet

Right about now, there are 3 months left in 2021, and your owner is tossing and turning every night wondering, “Are we going to stretch to hit our year-end goals, or is 2021 just another swing and a miss?”

As an employee, you may or may not ever know the heavy weight on the shoulders of CEOs and entrepreneurs right now. Some might be vulnerable and let you see a sliver of their concerns, and others will be stoic, taking their stress out on their restless pillow at 2 am.

You see, most local business owners had an “off-year” in 2020; they pivoted, applied for PPP or EIDL, and many survived. No one started 2021 wishing to endure more of the same. As leaders gathered around board rooms for annual company retreats, they strategized toward a new beginning for 2021. They planned (as best they could) how to emerge from the pandemic, both stronger and more efficient.

Then, the monsters began crawling out from under their bed each night, creating real-life nightmares across every headline in the Heartland: supply chain constraints, 5x shipping cost increases, delayed products and components, cost of goods price inflation, turnover in the great resignation, lost international tradeshow connections, and, of course, the COVID Delta variant surge.

When times are tough, leadership feels pressed for immediate solutions. This is why my phone has been ringing off the hook. Business coaches throughout Oklahoma have been helping leaders reach out to a telescoping mirror so they can see around the corner.

That’s exactly what we’re here for, to help offload the weight on your shoulders with:

  • Brainstorming techniques
  • Strategic thinking
  • Execution planning
  • Asking the big, tough questions
  • Offering best practice tips
  • Broadening your mind to outside-industry examples
  • Providing great resources
  • A business strategist helps a leadership team observe, orient, decide, and act (what’s known as the OODA loop, originally taught by United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd while training fighter pilots who needed to make quick decisions in the skies).

Observe

Business leaders in 2021 needed to make quick decisions by observing the raw facts at hand (not bringing in biases). Think about how an airplane’s instrumentation provides raw data to the pilot. I helped my clients think about their own raw data in the form of two strategic planning questions, “What do we know 80-100% for sure?” and, “What do we not know at all?” The 80/20 Rule really helped distinguish facts from 50/50 assumptions in the board room.

Orient

Then, we would orient by asking, “Where am I within this environment?” Think about how pilots who only see blue skies above, below, and to the left and right wings can experience horizon disorientation without their instruments. We’d go through a series of questions about the list of things we said we didn’t know yet by playing, “If I were a CEO…”

  • How would I find out?
  • Where could I learn that information?
  • Who could I ask?

Decide

The leaders would then need to make a decision. What’s Next? Think about how standard U.S. military training allows a soldier to instantly react as if his muscle memory from boot camp to decide on the fly, the next right thing.

Both the physical and mental muscles are prepared to respond to almost anything due to their training techniques. The, “If I were a CEO” situations would each get a clear decision:

  • Should we increase sales or cut expenses?
  • Should we add new customers or product lines?
  • How can we increase not just sales, but profit?
  • Product improvement for recurring income?

Act

You then take action and close the OODA loop right back into observation mode. The minute you decide, you are ready to act. Action always has a reaction, so you immediately begin gathering the raw facts again in the observation stage to determine if your action made a difference in the marketplace.

If you’re a CEO reading this column today, and you’ve got burning questions keeping you up at night, don’t despair! There are still 90 days left in this year. It’s never too late to start forward momentum. A leader’s momentum starts one step at a time, no matter what month the calendar reads. There’s a pretty famous proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

For entrepreneurs, quarter four can feel like the final 90-day sprint to the finish line. Companies with seasonal businesses may find October, November, and December to be their best months! Retail, for example, makes most of their annual gains during the holiday shopping season. Other industries look for a steadier pace throughout the year with fewer rollercoaster peaks and valleys.

The CEOs who work with an accountability coach will likely execute on their annual plan, quarter by quarter, with a scoreboard clearly in sight to watch their progress steadily increase throughout the year. By the end of quarter one, 25% of annual goal, quarter two mid-year 50% achieved, quarter three 75% achieved, all leading to their 100% KPI or OKR achievement by quarter four end of the year.

If a business coach like me sees a client is off track early on, we can help assess which adjustments need to be made before it’s too late to make up the shortfall. This may be the first time a COVID pandemic has happened, but this is not the first time businesses have faced hardship or needed to take course-corrective action.

It can be done.
It has been done.
It will be done again.
YOU CAN DO THIS!

Quarters are a 13-week race, a real sprint to the finish line, no matter what time of year it is. Week by week, the goals are best broken down into manageable steps. If you can answer who needs to do what by when, then you have the 3 W’s to succeed. When you feel overwhelmed on how to reach your company’s year-end goals around the holidays, always remember to identify who, what, and when. It will provide a clear action path to success for year-end.

Small businesses who are running a scaling up coaching system, or even a great game of business system, should consider deploying a quarter-four theme or mini-game to gamify the goals needed to create company-wide engagement to close out the year.

You’d be amazed at what a team can achieve in three months when their efforts are all intentionally pointed toward earning a fun celebration or end-of-year reward. Everyone can see the score, keep their teammate hyped, and feed on the energy of the themed gamification. I’ve always liked the acronym for T.E.A.M. that states, “Together, everyone achieves more.”

Tonight, as your head hits the pillow for some much-needed rest, please remember that as the first responder to today’s economy, you’ve got this! Rest well knowing your team can perform an OODA Loop exercise tested for decades in the Air Force to make quick decisions in your final 90 Days of 2021. Know that the strength of your team will pull you through the finish line of this race, and please, allow yourself to dream big of what’s to come for 2022!

If you need to talk things out, I’m here for you, no obligations, no strings attached. You can schedule 30 minutes on my calendar at any time. I assisted 150 other key executives pivot during this pandemic, so why not you?

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About Stacy Eads

Edmond native & UCO Alumna, Stacy Eads, is an award-winning “Most Admired CEO” who scaled her company as a Woman in Tech before becoming an International Scaling Up Business Coach. She now empowers other CEOs from $2M to $200M to embrace their leadership potential through quarterly strategic planning. Her talent is in high demand to CEO Coach, Train Teams, and Speak at Events in both the U.S.A. and Canada.

Stacy Eads’ career affiliations include 50 Women Making a Difference award, Circle of Excellence award, Torch Ethics award, Most Admired CEO award, Edmond Chamber & UCO Mentor, Better Business Bureau of Central Oklahoma Board of Directors, TEDx OKC Speaker Coach, and Ambassador Chairwoman for the Greater OKC Chamber of Commerce.