A lifelong dream of mine was to be a pilot. I did my training, and got my pilot’s license. Being up in the air was thrilling, but there was one aspect I dreaded. When I first started flying, I was terrified of the radio. I would freeze up when I had to communicate with Air Traffic Control (ATC). I would do anything in my power to avoid speaking with them, including taking longer, more circuitous routes to avoid required dreaded radio communication. Flying was supposed to be fun and it was, so long as I did not have to speak to ATC. My inability to effectively communicate seriously limited my choices of destinations. I eventually decided to conquer my fears. The skill I needed to understand and perfect was the basic framework of ATC communication. Every communication with ATC is based upon a standard structure that is followed by all pilots:
- Who are you calling? – State the name of facility you are calling (e.g., “New York Approach”).
- Who are you? – State your full aircraft identification (as filed in the flight plan) (e.g., “Skylane 756VE”)
- Where are you? – State your position (e.g., “10 Miles North of MMU @ 8,500 enroute BID”).
- What are your intentions? - State your request (e.g., “Request flight following.”)
State Your Intentions ATC will often use the phrase “state your intentions” when they are unclear what you are trying to communicate. The request needs to be concise and specific. I often find myself using this phrase with my clients when we are setting EOS Rocks. Rocks – Rocks are 90-Day priorities. A Company Rock is one of the three to seven most important priorities the company needs to get done this quarter. Departmental Rocks are the three to five most important priorities for a specific department to accomplish this quarter. An Individual Rock is one of the one to three most important priorities YOU need to get done this quarter. In the same way that both clear communication and a specific process are needed when flying, they are also needed when guiding your high growth scale up business to new levels. Thus, when my clients set their Rocks, I ask them to ensure that they are SMART:
Their Rocks not only need to be SMART, but they need to be phrased in a concise manner – no more than 3 to 7 words. Ranging from the Individual to the Company Rocks, this specificity helps my clients hone their intentions in a way that makes the communication of priorities airtight. Internal communication of responsibility is clarified at all levels, increasing traction and team health. Teams don’t waste time quibbling internally about specific responsibility because everyone knows their role and overall goals.
Just as Air Traffic Control has limited amount of radio time for your transmission, your team only has so much capacity to recall their Rocks . . . make them short, sweet and SMART. Once I fully grasped the syntax of ATC communication, my anxiety as a pilot subsided and I began to look forward to interacting with the control towers. I ultimately honed my radio communication skills to the point where I regularly fly in the highly controlled space around New York and can now seamlessly communicate right alongside professional pilots flying long haul heavy aircraft.
In the same way, after I work with leadership teams, they have a framework for internal communication of priorities at all levels, and in many circumstances, this has alleviated friction and increased confidence, allowing the company to soar to new heights.
Does your business have clear priorities and responsibilities at all levels?
Can your company benefit from SMART communication?