Sometimes lessons in business strategy and execution come from unanticipated sources. CEOs may learn a lot from industries other than their own. Lessons in strategy are often fatal for companies, especially when key indicators are ignored or missed. Although you may not specifically remember flight 401, the story is one of aviations first disaster tales. Flight 401 was a brand new, L-1011 operated by Eastern Airlines that crashed in the everglades in December of 1972. It was the first large scale airline disaster in the US involving a sophisticated passenger liner. A sad story, 111 lives were lost and 69 were changed forever. Why, you ask is this story a lesson in strategy execution? Sadly, it is a case of failure to execute, and failure to look at the indicators that were available to help execute on the strategy of getting the passengers and crew to Miami safely.
Flight 401 had an experienced “management team”, a senior captain, first officer, flight engineer and even an airline employee riding along in the cockpit. All of those leaders had access to information about the flight. When the plane was beginning its descent into Miami one of the cockpit lights did not turn green to indicate that the nose gear was down. This small light, unlit, diverted the attention of all crew members to one issue during the descent. The captain and crew set the plane on auto pilot, much like CEOs often set the strategy execution plan on autopilot and began working on the problem at hand.
Was the light malfunctioning or was the gear, in fact, not deployed? All the attention of the senior leadership of that flight was spent trying to figure out if the light was not working or if they had a technical problem. Bright leaders, in this case experienced pilots, spent critical time pulling the bulb out of its socket to see if it was burnt out or truly indicating and issue. During the consternation about the bulb, no one noticed that the plane had disengaged from autopilot and was slowly descending from 2000 feet to an unrecoverable level. The result was a crash of epic proportions that was in fact deemed pilot error. Fatal pilot error.
Business strategy and execution are also subject to distraction which is why a tool like the Strategic Execution Scorecard is an opportunity to make sure all pieces of the strategy are being executed upon. The SES gives real time input on all factors relating to the execution of your strategy and can avert disaster. Sadly, many corporate disasters are also “pilot errors”. You can avert disaster by making sure you are looking at all factors not just the one demanding your attention the most adamantly. The business lesson in the story of Flight 401 was learned at great expense, don’t focus all your attention on one thing and expect to meet your strategic goals. Using tools that help you create a way to monitor your execution will make sure your business keeps flying high.