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When Helicopters Crash

By Chuck Violand

February 26, 2018

If you haven’t had a chance to watch the video of Rob O’Neill, the Navy SEAL who claims to have fired the shot that ended the life of Osama bin Laden, I would highly recommend doing so. While the video relates the story of a military operation, the business metaphors are impossible to ignore.

One of the stories O’Neill tells that struck me as particularly business-oriented has to do with the helicopter that crashed in bin Laden’s yard during the mission. Anyone who’s owned a business for any length of time knows that helicopters will crash in your yard at some point. It’s better to plan for them and be prepared than to pretend they won’t happen to you.

We can’t avoid or prevent every helicopter crash in our lives or our businesses. What we can do is prepare ourselves and our companies for when the inevitable crashes happen, because they will happen, and they’ll happen in unexpected ways.
Helicopter crashes can occur when significant customers choose to leave us. These can be long-term customers we’ve enjoyed working with for years; customers who’ve always paid on time and whose checks we’ve come to rely on; or customers who sometimes represent a disproportionate and unhealthy share of overall sales. If we haven’t prepared ourselves, or if we’ve become complacent, these helicopter crashes can be catastrophic to our businesses.

Having a key employee unexpectedly leave the company, whether for reasons outside our control or those we could have prevented, can be a helicopter crash within any organization. Sometimes a crash takes the form of our inability to attract enough qualified frontline workers to handle the workload we currently have, much less any future growth.

The question we need to address in situations like these is what do we need to do today to create a culture within our company that not only attracts the best talent, but encourages them to stick around? What do we have to do now to groom our current workers to fill the role if a key employee suddenly leaves our company?

Helicopter crashes can be caused by competitors, changes in technology, changes in government regulations, shifting market dynamics, or any number of factors. But all helicopter crashes aren’t necessarily bad. Some are opportunities.

Opportunistic crashes can present themselves in the form of large influxes of work, such as landing a big contract or a catastrophic weather event. How well are we prepared to handle this windfall of work? Are we staffed and equipped and financially strong enough to succeed?

What about a top candidate who is interested in choosing our company over another? Are we at a place both mentally and professionally to help them succeed in their role as they help us succeed as a company?