Pacing for clarity and alignment to minimize the ‘tragedy of hierarchy’: how to get better at getting things right the first time by Dino Laudato (guest)

In my day job, as an internal coach and  somebody who manages the operations of the coaching group in GSK and in my previous roles where I’ve been managing and leading business-critical services, being able to just slow down a bit is valuable because:

  • You’ve got time to think and do things right the first time,

  • Spending so much time just thinking about why it went wrong.

Hence being proactive to opportunities versus react to problems after the event. As human beings, because we’re under the cause so much, we tend to just run at a hundred miles an hour and not think of the direction we’re running. A useful phrase that many people here use from time to time, go slower to go faster.

People come in from the corporate energy wheel and it is quite difficult sometimes to slow them down. Many of my clients are business executives who are busily trying to get a million and one things done. You can hear and they will say it, “I haven’t had the time to do things, or I’ve had a number of issues”. It’s only when they come into coaching and create that calm environment to be able to do some thinking that they start to get some clarity.

They’ve already been ‘running at a hundred miles an hour’ and not fully present in a team paying attention to what’s going on around them. They have six different things to complete as well contributing right away to the conversation in the room! Because they haven’t paid full attention to what was going on in the room, express their views and contribute to the decisions wanted, it always result in that same argument resurfacing a week later, even a month later. The challenge being that all those present may not have all been fully present also. After someone’s actually started to do something or start to pay attention to it; everyone has  to regroup and refocus again without making another series of wrong decision. This creates more work for each other, and back on the wheel they go.

Helping my clients to pace, to be able to just slow down and think, is one of the key learnings for me when it comes to my coaching practice and to what I see with my clients.

‘Tragedy of Hierarchy’

Working and sustaining such high speeds without space to really think of the consequences remind me of the Tenerife Airport disaster. The deadliest accident in aviation history when Pan Am 1736 and KLM 4825 came together at full takeoff speed on the runway of Tenerife North Airport and killed 583 people. There were a number of reasons that this tragedy happened, and ultimately it comes down to human error and one of the indicators was the hierarchy in the cockpit.

The main Gran Canaria Airport in Canary Islands was closed due to a bomb threat and all the flights were redirected to the North Airport which was not equipped to deal with jumbos and high traffic. Planes were parked everywhere; and the runway was being used for taxiway and takeoffs. The whole situation was made worse with fog descending onto the airport (600 meters above sea level) that reduced visibility to less than a hundred meters.

The KLM flight was lined up to take off, the controller in the tower nor the KLM captain could see the Pan Am flight taxiing on the runway. The combination of communication misunderstanding and radio interference meant that the KLM captain in a rush to avoid the newly introduced limitation of flight duty time misunderstood the supposed takeoff instructions for permission to take off and disregarded the second officers questioning of the instructions. “Takeoff” then was liberally used and the rest is history; two came together with a loss of life.

A lot was learned, hence making aviation industry much safer under same token. It resulted with an immediate response where standard phrases were properly defined and to be used in very specific situations. And then finally, the emphasis on team decision-making and to remove the hierarchy in the cockpit; it resulted into what they call “crew resource management,” that’s adopted by NASA and all the other airlines.  The focus of it interestingly enough is on interpersonal communication, leadership and decision-making:

  • Understand leadership and what is positional leadership,

  • How do we communicate amongst ourselves, and

  • Most importantly, how is it when we go and make decisions

The lessons I learnt which can directly be linked to organizations are:

  1. The importance of clarity and alignment,

  2. The importance of haste not hurrying and constantly rushing

And when it comes to the team, be a small team, be a corporation, if we’re all not pulling in the same direction, then we’re not working together. From an organization standpoint, it would be a question of survival.

All pulling in the same direction!

Pulling in the same direction asks:

  • How are we organized?

  • How are we working together to deliver?

  • What is it that we certainly want to deliver?

  • How will we know we’re on the right track?

Having that level of clarity, naturally leads to who sets the direction, and that invites challenge in different perspectives. The direct response would be the chairperson at the top who sets the direction with a team they’ve invited different perspectives from.

Achieving not only the picture, the final destination, and how to get there creates a continuous feedback loop for clarity and alignment because of the many different routes to be able to get there. There’s always haste in the organization, and we need to create more space for “pause and act” as opposed to “react.”

A lot of my clients are high achievers and looking for longevity. And all are asking the question, so can I maintain this pace in ten years’ time, 15 years’ time? Is that the work-life balance that you want? Certainly by stepping out and into a coaching space, actually talking about the situation and what they learned from it and what they could have done differently. They raised an awareness, that pace, a slow pace full of help, but also they get the realization that fast pace is unsustainable for them as a human being.

Making sure you have a healthy workforce, mentally as well as physically so that altogether we can do what we need to do

As a leader there’s an element of complete transparency with your team. There’s balance to be had, and importantly for me “If I look after you, then you would look after me.” This requires, and I encourage, that you retain some kind of control and that you take as well as give.

I find often in my coaching practice getting people to look at the whole, is when we start seeing some scenarios. And it would be interesting, to ask things like “what would your wife say?” “What would your mother say?” And that helps with raising awareness, as well as considering the effect it’s having on those around them outside of work.

This is early pioneering of what’s going to become inevitable and make for much better planning in many ways.. You will be able to hear, “Gosh. I never realized how a little bit of space can create such an impact in terms of thinking about some of the things that I’ve just started to think about.”

This approach is just as important working with teams, where we continue with the coaching beyond the initial workshop. We contract with each team around what is it that they’re trying to achieve and ensure that the pace is right for them to achieve their goals.

Again, with coaching as well, if that’s what they’re bringing to the table and that’s what they want to work on it’s setting a pace that helps them to slow down. And if that’s what they want to work on, then we’ll ask how you’re doing with this pacing.

My learnings so far

As coaches we do not ask our clients to do anything, we make them aware of the fact that they’re calling to our parameters whilst they’re running a hundred miles an hour.

Coaching often picks up on the things that are falling off the edge of the table.

Yet how sustainable, and how long do they really want to work in this way before they make changes? I hear it and I see it at all levels within an organization; and some people are better than others and should be rewarded as much as those who make alternative choices.

I’m also generally wondering actually how do we get our leaders to bring the issue of heading forward and say, “Work slower to get more done” That would be quite interesting conversation and in my coaching practice I’m consciously looking out for it because I’m aware of it and always working towards getting things done right the first time.

To connect with Dino

Dino has 20+ years experience of delivering business critical services and leading large teams with global reach and presence at GSK. He has extensive experience of living and operating in the diverse cultures of the Middle East, Continental Europe, the UK and USA.

For the past 5 years, he has worked as an internal coach in GSK helping individuals and high-performing teams to achieve their business needs and performance improvements. Coaching is a way of enhancing leadership capabilities creating high performing and resilient teams by providing a space to think. This ignites his passion for watching people to develop into the best leaders they can be.