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Performance Hack - How Fighter Pilots Debrief the Boss!

Your boss makes a mistake…what do you do?

In a fighter mission, often junior pilots will be leading their superiors. In the debrief, it is EXPECTED that the lead will identify every mistake, error and lapse that occurred inside the formation. Fighter squadron culture is such that everyone will voluntarily ‘fess up’ to their own sub-standard behaviour, but if not, the lead will do it.

Why is this so different to your workplace?

1. A fighter squadron has the standards written down clearly. There are written standards covering every single aspect of operations, and everyone is expected to know them. An example is the recovery after dropping a bomb…everyone knows that you MUST fly 5G to 15 degrees nose up, and it’s therefore very easy to critique somebody if they don’t achieve this.

If your organisation hasn’t clearly listed the operating procedures for virtually EVERYTHING you do, you will have a very difficult time trying to call someone out for not meeting the standard. Your critique may be seen as a personal attack, rather than a clinical comparison of actual behaviour vs ideal behaviour.

2. Debrief’s are de-personalised by the use of callsigns. Its not like the lead says “Robbo…you really screwed up there, and you let us all down.” It would be “Pirate 2 flew a 4.8G recovery - Pirate 2, was there anything that was affecting your ability to fly a standard pass?” Pirate 2 would then ‘fess up’ and probably say something like “No, that was just poor execution. My Head’s Up Display scan was poor. I need to visualise my recovery a few times before my next mission.”

I’d be very surprised if you have a position in your organisation designated “Pirate 2” and you probably aren't debriefing bombing missions, but you get the idea…try to de-personalise critique and analysis. We all have egos, and the object is to make the organisation better, not offend each other.

Often, organisations don't bother conducting analysis after a project is finished. It’s a quick pat on the back to all involved, a boozy champagne lunch, then onto the next project.

If you want to make your organisation truly exceptional:

  1. Write procedures for everything you do,

  2. Make sure all relevant staff know them, and

  3. Debrief EVERYTHING.

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