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Developing ‘tiger’ in baby fighter pilots; using language to shape employee behaviour.



In my early 20s, I sat in a briefing room with 6 other 'bograts' (a 'bograt' is a junior pilot) and began what the corporate world would describe as an ‘onboarding’ process. One of the most important parts of onboarding is the explanation of the organisation’s culture…what’s our purpose, what are our values, and how do we behave.


If culture is strong and aligned, employees will become engaged and motivated staff whose behaviour supports organisational goals. As I discussed in a previous blog, leaders can spread and strengthen culture through using 'customs, totems and unique language'. What follows is the most powerful example of using language that I have seen.

As part of a long day of briefings, a senior fighter pilot stood in front of us and introduced the concept of ‘tiger’. I hadn’t heard this term before, but tiger would soon become an integral part of who I am. Every time I flew a training mission on that gruelling course, I received a score on my ‘tiger’; part of the organisation’s way of reinforcing the behaviour it desired from me.


So, what is tiger?

The student text book for the course had an entire chapter devoted to explaining just this. Beginning with the historical significance of the term, the chapter then moved onto a detailed description of tiger behaviour, including many examples. The organisation was putting a LOT of effort into making sure we new exactly how fighter pilots were expected to behave.

So what behaviour DID they want?


Believe it or not, the chapter assigned more than 20 different attitudes and behaviours to tiger! Think of the power of this one term in shaping and strengthening Australian fighter pilot culture.

Here are some highlights of what it means to have 'tiger'...

  • Being calm and focussed in the face of adversity and pressure

  • Displaying controlled aggression

  • Being highly self-aware

  • Controlling your emotions

  • Knowing when to kill, and when to wait

  • Striving for outstanding execution

  • Performing constant humble self-analysis

  • Pushing your own boundaries within rules

  • Taking pride in your achievements

  • Having strong self-belief

  • Focusing on growth

  • Accepting that it is ‘mission first, self second’

  • Always being in control of your ego

  • Being comfortable operating in the unknown

  • When you are defensive, fighting with everything you have until the bitter end

  • Never, EVER giving up

Culture is immensely powerful when ‘done right’; when it is aligned with purpose and strong enough to shape behaviour at all levels of your organisation.

How is your organisation’s culture introduced to new staff?


What is your ‘tiger’?

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