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Steps to success

Jim Lara, principal at Gray Stone Advisors, outlines his five steps for how business aviation leaders can be more effective communcators


When it comes to communicating, do you often find that while you think you’re being crystal-clear, some folks just don't seem to “get” what you’re saying?

The following are five important steps that you should follow to help you successfully communicate your message to everyone. They address every communication in which understanding, action and alignment are required in order to achieve successful outcomes.

Step 1. Set direction
The first element of any business communication is to clearly establish a direction and explain the big picture. It’s the first point of connection with your audience, so it’s important to use simple, comprehensible language that everyone understands.

"In the next year, it’s going to be an important part of our strategy to achieve a 15% energy saving and greatly reduce our carbon footprint. To achieve that, we will likely do many things differently than before, but, chief among them, we’ll be looking at using alternative fuels and reducing supply-chain-related emissions. As I'm sure you can imagine, this will be a big undertaking, requiring a lot of preparation, but it makes good business sense for our airport operations and, of course, the environment.”

In this example, as you can see, within the span of a few words, we’ve clearly stated what our goal is and how we’re going to achieve it. We’ve also emphasized the rationale for doing so, and the value that we’ll reap from doing it. Remember, if you fail to capture your audience’s attention at this stage, then you risk confusion and, at worst, a failure to achieve your objective.

Step 2. Define the plan
The next step is to clearly define how the team is going to achieve the objective with a tactical plan. It’s important to understand that the "how" should be conveyed both realistically and specifically. That level of detail will help your audience understand potential barriers as well as identify any resource requirements (time, budget, etc.). Make sure that your perceptions regarding the "how" are aligned with those of your audience. Disconnects in this area can be a potentially lethal trap.

"Here is how we plan to achieve this objective. In the next two weeks, we’ll establish an Implementation Team, led by Susan Connor. Susan will have the role of selecting team members from each of our functional areas: i.e., airport operations, customer service, maintenance, administration, etc. Over the next three months, this team will develop the specific plans to make our airport more efficient, and, with their approval and implementation, turn those plans into reality. If you’re interested in playing a specific role in this undertaking, or if you think you have a unique skill that will help us achieve our objective, please discuss your interest with your functional leader and with Susan. Likewise, you should always feel free to discuss it with me, but be sure to talk with your functional leader as well."

Step 3. Explain the where, how and why
Your next step should be to assess whether your communication adequately explains the “where, how and why” of the plan. Are you conveying the rationale for this initiative? Why is it necessary? What's the justification? If your communication doesn't fully articulate all three of these conditions, the odds are that your communication’s effectiveness will be weakened.

"The rationale for this strategic objective is that, over the next fiscal year, our company is planning to save a significant amount of money on costly energy while respecting our environment. It’s critical to the success of our plans that we seek out and identify any and all means of energy conservation. By the same token, having a reduced carbon footprint and demonstrating an active plan for conservation can bring us even greater leverage in the markets where we hope to participate. Thus, our operations will be fully integrated into the business planning processes, where we will play an important strategic role. That's why we need to be proactive and get started immediately so that, down the road, we're able to demonstrate to our executive team that we were able to anticipate regulatory and environmental needs, rather than react to them."

Step 4. Clearly set expectations
When communicating your expectations, be very careful to clearly define what you expect of your audience or team. Don’t expect them to be clairvoyant. If you don't take the time to define “the deal”, there’s a significant risk that your anticipated results won't be achieved.

A statement that sets definite expectations might be as follows:
"When our new Implementation Team is securely in place, each team member's role, responsibilities and deliverables will be clearly defined and communicated. And since each team member already has existing responsibilities, their overall workload will be reviewed and redistributed as necessary to ensure that the expectations for their performance on the Implementation Team are realistic.”

Step 5. Tell them "WIIFM"
Let’s not overlook one of the most important components of any communication: The age-old "WIIFM" (what's in it for me?). Remember that we, as leaders, only have two motivators to work with: fear and interest. Fear is a short-term motivator, which typically produces inferior results. Generating authentic interest, on the other hand, can be a long-term motivator that usually elicits results beyond expectations.

When you hear that someone "has their heart and soul" in a project, you can bet that they are laser-focused on what they're doing. When you, as a leader, can align someone's passions and interests with the needs of the organization, you will have only one thing to do: get out of the way and watch it happen!

Give it a try
If these simple steps to effective communication produce such great results, then why isn't this formula used by everyone all of the time? The answer is straightforward: these five steps require time and effort.

But, rest assured, once you put in what's needed, this process works very, very well! The next time you need to ensure that your message is clear when you’re attempting to move folks to action, try incorporating these five key ingredients in your communication.

Tell them what, where, how and why; set clear expectations; and then let them know the WIIFM. You just might be amazed at the results!

About the author
James Lara is the principal and founder of Gray Stone Advisors, a consulting firm that helps aircraft operators and executives simplify the business of business aviation. With more than 12,000 flight hours, he has led the turnaround of corporations as well as major flight departments. To read more articles, visit







June 23. 2016



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