How would you perceive a manager who always runs through a checklist of scenarios that could go wrong?

This is exactly what professional pilots do regularly. Over and over again they analyze accident reports and do simulator training. But what are the benefits?

Do you recall the 15th of January 2009? That was the day of the legendary landing on the Hudson River. Shortly after take-off from La Guardia, an Airbus collided with a goose swarm and both engines failed. The Airbus with 155 people on board suddenly became a glider. What only a few people know: the timespan between the engine failure and the landing on the Hudson took 208 seconds exactly.

Do you believe some human being in this world would be able to expertly deal with a complex, unknown and surprising situation in such a short time? Someone would be capable to analyze in a differentiated manner, to develop different action options, to finally take a decision and then consistently work through the action plan? All this in 208 seconds? Definitely no!

In extreme situations, pilots can only rely on their ability to deliver at top performance, because they are prepared. Taking the right decision under stress only works if you have a mental plan, a framework that you can use without having to think about it.

For many years I have been training pilots in “Crew Resource Management” as it is called in the aviation industry. At least once a year professional pilots must undergo such a course in addition to their simulator training. And each time it proves: only about 10% of all incidents are caused by technical issues; almost 90% of all accidents are caused by human error.

Obviously, a “Human Factor Training” is useful for pilots. But how does this compare to business management?  You sense it: these two worlds are not so far apart.

How would you react if your airline pilot, while encountering a problem, would firstly put together a workgroup? Sounds absurd? How come it is acceptable in management? How can it be that companies repeatedly head into crisis “by surprise” or get caught off guard by “unforeseen” market changes?

Based on the flight simulator for pilots, I have created a crisis simulator for businesses. The principle is the same: to anticipate disruptive incidents and difficulties.

  1. Identify:

Do a negative brainstorming to find as many as possible difficult or even threatening scenarios: from legal changes, market dislocations, the loss of important employees to sabotage. No one likes dealing with these topics, but it makes sense to take the time to play devil’s advocate and be as creative as possible.

  1. Structure and prioritize:

If you have completed the above step well, you could argue that you cannot prepare for everything. There is no need. A T-chart with two facets is all you want. On one side, you list the events that are relatively likely to occur but will have little consequences. On the other side, you put the events that will possibly never happen. But if they do, they will have catastrophic results.

  1. Step: Action Plan:

In the last step pick 5 of the most serious cases from each side and create a concrete action plan and checklist.  What to be mindful of, who does what, who talks to whom, which resources can be activated, etc.

Interestingly, you will quickly realize that you do not need a plan for each potential scenario because most themes repeat themselves. Like this you will build a foundation for emergencies which will enable you to concentrate on what really matters and to successfully finish your project; the same principle as the landing on the Hudson River!