TEC 2016, Day 2: A Focus on Focus (and ERM)

September 8, 2016

The show-stopper for Day 2 of Workiva’s TEC 2016 user conference was a talk by Carey Lohrenz, the first female fighter pilot for the U.S. Navy. She gave an excellent keynote presentation Thursday morning about achieving high performance.

Much to my surprise, however, Lohrenz’ comments also struck lots of chords with another TEC 2016 session that preceded her: a small breakfast roundtable on enterprise risk management.

How does a fighter pilot’s motivational talk tie back to launching ERM programs? Let’s start with the pilot.

Lohrenz described a working environment for fighter pilots that falls on the far side of hair-raising. Navy pilots go from 0 to 200 mph in less than two seconds when launching off an aircraft carrier; and they endure acceleration forces anywhere from 4 to 8 Gs, forcing the blood to drain from their heads; and they have roughly 350 instruments in the cockpit (along with multiple radios) sending them information simultaneously. Then they have to fulfill a mission plan that may involve combat, and land the jet on an unstable, moving surface where failure can get them killed.

The keys to success in such a chaotic environment, Lohrenz said—where anything other than high-performance simply isn’t suitable for the job—are teamwork and focus. Still, even teamwork on an aircraft carrier is challenging, because crewmen rotate through an aircraft carrier so quickly: 50 percent of a carrier’s standard 5,000-person crew turn over every nine months.

So ultimately, the real secret to success in that world is focus; everyone must know exactly what the objective is.

Thankfully, Lohrenz said, the clarity of objective on an aircraft carrier is easy: the safe launch and return of fighter jets. That’s it. Whether the crewman is doing laundry detail 17 levels below deck, stocking supplies in sick bay, or mopping the landing deck—every person knows that his or her work must support the safe operation of the jets.

Then Lohrenz pivoted her talk back to the TEC audience: Does everyone at your company know what its objectives are? “Would everyone have the same answer to the question, ‘What’s our purpose here?’” she asked. “If not, that’s a great leadership opportunity for you.”

That’s when I started making connections back to the ERM roundtable an hour before...

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