Communicating with our people in an Airline


  • Excellent and targeted communication by management is a precursor to trust and engagement by the workforce. See my Secrets of Communicating with Pilots for the answers.
  • “Know your audience” and know that your communication will fall on willing ears.
  • Accept pilots for who they are: Intelligent introverts, and use this to the benefit of the group.

Suggestions for better communications within the UK:

There seems to be an incredible amount of effort and energy spent trying to find out what “they are up to”. For example web chats and forum posts etc. All trying to catch the company out. So I guess management need to convey this information more frequently which will have the side effect of slowly breaking down the us and them situation, after if we are not “Thomas Cook” who is? Remember Tim Walker’s story about his squadron. If this Squadron is shit then so are you.

Sources used: Brilliant Minds; Andrew T Austin; Online articles; Fruitbat; Shelle Rose-Charvet

Models used: Metaprograms; Business metaphors; Myers Briggs; 4Mat

Following on from my interest in Engaging with our people in an Airline it has become apparent to me that the way in which we communicate with pilots will directly influence the way that they engage with the organisation. The company want engaged staff because engaged staff are more productive, more efficient, take fewer sick days and generally perform better.

One solution from ETS plc (who carry out the Echo survey for TCX) was to influence what we as individuals THINK, this in turn will affect the way that they FEEL about the company and hence alter the way they DO things. That is the way we behave and engage.

To achieve this their whole approach is to align the strategy of the organisation, ie what’s in it for the company with the suggested questionnaire. Surveys are tweaked accordingly. By asking specific questions and then producing specific action plans and carrying them out, all will be well. Ask them what they want, do it and life’s a beach. Well until the results start to fall I guess? My experience of Action Planning is pretty poor. It requires  very committed manager and the work force seem to be pretty unconvinced by the outcomes for reason. All this action requires time, energy and money whilst getting on with the day job. The ECS approach would imply that there are a set of outcomes ie Behaviours that are being sought from the outset by the company. From an NLP perspective behaviour is of course the output from an individual which has been filtered and tweaked by all the usual Blueprint of Behaviour influences. In principal I agree with the concept of THINK FEEL DO but I do not believe that the ETS method is the best way to go abut it.

The second suggested solution from Dianne Lowther is to engage with every individual pilot on a 1-2-1 basis and ask the following style questions:

  • What would it take to engage that person, what would it take to fulfil their values?
  • What’s going to make the work meaningful and enjoyable to them?
  • What’s going to make them proud to work for this organisation?

Now lets agree that this is not going to happen soon so the question is how else are we going to glean this information?


I have recently read a great deal written by Dianne Lowther from Brilliant Minds and in particular her work on why the iT department nearly always come bottom in any staff survey and this got me thinking about the similarity between Pilots and IT personnel. In particular I was intrigued by the possibility of a direct comparison and then transferring these findings to TCX.


Do you recognise these people? Disaffected, cynical and disengaged.They bring up negative concern after negative concern? Not to mention nit-picking the most picayune details?”  They often tell you “I don’t know what’s going on around here!” Suspicious and even a little paranoid. Long memories of perceived injustices. Well you probably would not call these people “Intelligent Introverts” would you? Well Dianne does and her point is that these people can be extremely useful in an organisation should you choose to use their qualities.

More work by Dianne includes a closer look at Introverts and Extroverts.

According to Myers Briggs the definition of an Introvert may not be the stereotype that you hold :  “What a person will do after a days work to re-charge their batteries.”

  • Spend time with friends and family often at home.
  • Read the paper and or watch television or the web.
  • Happy with their own thoughts and ideas.
  • Poor at small talk and get frustrated by it.
  • Go for depth of knowledge – so may have a long term hobby or sport.
  • Goes for depth of experience
  • Takes time to trust somebody

She has also produced a publication about Why the IT department sucks at engagement.

This is a short list of stuff that may be worth considering regarding communication:

  1. Intelligent Introverts (see above for Introversion)
  2. The “Business”
  3. Interpersonal skills

Intelligent Extroverts offer:

  • High IQ
  • Introversion
  • A broad view of most situations
  • Logical thinking
  • Good memory
  • Myers-Brigs: Cool Blues Analytics and in NLP terms Digitals (like logic and detail)

I would like to suggest that the last two are changed so that it reads:

  1. Intelligent Introverts (see above for Introversion)
  2. The “Business” needs you! Why not harness the attributes of these guys and engage with them.
  3. Airline Interpersonal skills and personal development: Technical ability comes first and managers lack the confidence as leaders. They are often promoted for their technical ability or knowledge and not their leadership qualities.

Intelligent introverts don’t judge you on what you do, but on how you think.

I’m not sure just how this can be achieved in TCX, lets see what emerges.


Here are some interesting ideas about the sort of people we pilots are. The first one is from AVweb and suggests the following:

 In a practical sense your non-pilot manager must understand that your concern with what might go wrong is not negativity. Instead, it is the pilot’s natural training to look for problems that he/she does not even remotely imagine are going to happen. It is fastening your safety belt taken to an extreme. And since, as a pilot, many lives depend on your decisions, you tend to take things to an extreme.

Here’s another rather funny one from the partner of a pilot and some possibly useful findings:

“Pilots tend to be scanners, drawing conclusions rapidly about situational facts. Pilots scan people as if they were instruments; they draw conclusions at a glance rather than relying on long and emotion-laden conversations.”

And here is a list of Traits of Pilots which also includes a couple more references.

  • “More concerned with modifying their environment than changing their own behaviour.”
  • “Pilots are bimodal: on/off, black/white, good/bad, safe/unsafe, regulations/non-regulations.”
  • “…in some ways, pilots are the most consistent and even-keeled group anyone is likely to meet…” they are “trained not to rush!”
  • “Pilots tend to be self sufficient and may have difficulty functioning in team situations without CRM and other training.”
  • “Perhaps there are times that you as a pilot need to understand that some business projects can be rushed with no significant loss of effectiveness. Equally important, help others to understand that to a pilot “rushing” is often synonymous with “making hasty and dangerous decisions.””
  • ” ….. most pilots want to know about anything that affects their work, even tangentially.” Pilots like information that is “condensed” and “to the point,” just like talking to ATC. A lot of pertinent, essential information conveyed succinctly. They must understand why they are being told this information and what is going to happen during the rest of the meeting or FCN or briefing.
  • “Pilots are positive but they remain so by questioning everything that could go wrong. They are diligent but they do not like rushing, especially to meet artificial deadlines. They are interested in what’s going on but like to have a quick overview of the big picture at the outset and they like their information to be concise. Finally, they are cooperative but never ask them to delegate decisions about safety; it’s not a choice they have nor one passengers would want them to have.”

Optimistic and positive attitude; self confident; self disciplined; detailed; logical; good social skills; good reasoning; high personal standards; firm but polite; hard nosed to the point of intransigent when it comes to flight safety;


  • Internally referenced vs Externally referenced
  • Procedural vs Options
  • Detailed vs big picture although when not in the cockpit could be big picture
  • Balance of towards OTP and getting the job done and away from danger or lack of safety.


This work comes from Shelle Rose-Charvet. See my work on this subject here.

Engaging with our people in an Airline

Summary: Created Jan 2013 last update 16 Jun 2014

  • An engagement index should measure the internal feeling that an employee has for the organisation that he works for and not simply a score about the external work environment.
  • Engage with your people individually and they will in turn engage with the organisation.
  • Questions still exist regarding how the organisation intend to increase the engagement index of Pilots.
  • Change what your employees Think about their managers and this will in turn change how they Feel about their management and this will ultimately change what they Do for the company.

Models used: Harvard Memo Template

Sources: Online articles; etsplc; ;

I have recently begun a dialogue with our Group Head of Air Travel Christoph Debus. This has taken the form of me emoting about my feeling of being un-engaged or even de-engaged (if there is a difference) from my immediate management and above. It follows several letters and communications regarding our future as an airline and the What, Why and even “What will happen if we don’t do stuff” but very little about me as a line Pilot and the HOW we are going to do things differently. In addition “the company” is not happy with the “engagement figures” 39% compared to the national average of 64% what ever that means.

Now does this tell me more about my preferred way of receiving communication or the unthoughtful way that I am being communicated at? Or both? In addition why am I interested in any of this stuff? What do I get to prove and what’s in it for me? What is engaging me in this example of poor engagement?

I guess I care about TCX and my job and I wish to test out my knowledge of human interaction, personality types, metaprograms and the application of a few NLP presuppositions. It’s a chance to get involved in the relationships between management and Pilots which I assume is an area that has not received too much attention from an analysis point of view. In addition it’s a great opportunity to have a look at profiling Mr Debus and mixing in some Neuro Logical Levels.

The overall situation reminds me of the Harvard University format: Problem scenario – Questions raised – Suggested Solutions – Draw your own conclusions. So I will use this format as a template to see how it works out.


Warning Generalisations coming up! Pilots feel unengaged and do not trust management. They are generally cynical about the company and the motives of management. They believe that double standards are being applied to some staff and certainly by most managers especially around financial bonuses.

From what I know of the company they would like to see the engagement figures higher and for us all to pull together as one team in this transformation stage of the rebuilding of TCX Group and in particular the UK Airline. How then will the company do this? There is a difference here between the number of people completing the survey and the Engagement Index generated. See ETS section below.


Definition: or what specifically does TCX mean by Engagement? On a basic level does it mean the number of people that completed the ECHO survey or the results of the survey.

In an letter to the group Harriett says “….make this a better place to work…” and later on “Amongst the many questions each survey featured, there are 15 standardised engagement questions that will give us clear visibility about how you all feel about working for the Thomas Cook Group and how you think we’ve been performing as a business and an employer over the past year.”

From Ken Smith and the Listener: “The inquiry into what employees think about their place of work has metamorphosed into an assessment of the extent to which they want to stay and are willing to proclaim the merits of their organisation, and of their readiness to make additional, discretionary effort for it. In many ways this deeper, strategic enquiry into employees’ satisfaction with, and emotional attachment to, their organisation is to be applauded. ”

I came across this nice article on the subject which helped me understand some of the differences between employee satisfaction and employee engagement. So this article would suggest that:

Employee satisfaction is external to the employee ie more to do with his or her environment, colleagues and bosses (e.g., I have the materials I need to do my work right; My supervisor, or someone at work seems to care about me as a person; I have a best friend at work). Staff opinion poll could be another way of describing this type of measurement.

Employee engagement is far more to do with activation on the part of the employee, the willingness to expend his or her’s discretionary effort to help the employer and how he or she feels internally about the company and their part in it.


I checked out a little of what ETS plc says about its survey and found the following Think – Feel – Do model really interesting:

Think Feel Do

The ‘Think, Feel, Do’ framework that we use to create an engagement index recognises
that an employee’s perceptions of their organisation – for example their understanding
of individual contribution to the strategic direction, job fit, perceptions of the manager
(what they think) – will determine how they feel about working for the company.

Exactly what engaged employees feel will differ between organisations. For example;
pride, passion and a sense of belonging are frequently experienced by engaged
employees (what they feel). But many qualities of an engaged employee are unique to
an organisation and its business context. And what an employee feels will drive their
behaviour (what they do).

So it would apear that ETS do use a way of measuring the true meaning of engagement as the above article suggests so how are we to improve the index and therefor the response rate and presumably create higher productivity and performance?


The following video from Dianne Lowther is a really great NLP style look at the whole Staff Engagement conundrum. I have written up a transcript of her words here. She has also written an article about the Rules of Engagement.


Does Christoph actually want to improve our engagement index or is he happy with our productivity and performance as such?

Where in fact do pilots fit in the big scheme of the Echo Survey? Do pilots know why the scheme is so important. Do we need to be engaged?

How can we improve the pilot’s engagement with customers and fellow workers? CRM? Personal development?

How much does the current Echo survey cost? How can TCX spend half this and come up with a better solution? Who reads Echo surveys? What do they mean to me on the line?


Let’s assume that what the company are doing is not working. If you always do.

The ETS solution would suggest that we should alter and influence what the pilots Think. In due course this will affect what they FEEL and eventually what they DO as a result of these feelings. This is done by following up action plans and meetings and charts and stuff which is not working for me!

The Brilliant Minds solution is to Engage with the individual and their engagement with the organisation will follow. Ask each individual the following style questions:

  • What would it take to engage that person, what would it take to fulfil their values?
  • What’s going to make the work meaningful and enjoyable to them?
  • What’s going to make them proud to work for this organisation?

As of 28th Jan 2013 this is the required action from the latest communication regarding engagement. Your feedback also told us we need to focus on –

  • Communicating a clear and compelling plan and strategy for the UK Airline
  • Further focus on delivering greater customer focus
  • Ensuring people have the opportunity to discuss the issues that we are facing as a company with their line manager and input ideas on how to resolve
  • A much stronger focus on effective performance management with a particular focus on individual development and career growth

On the assumption that TCX will not go with the one on one solution then at least by communicating differently  with pilots we may see some change in thinking. See this post regarding Communicating with our people in an Airline.

01 Oct 2013 update

Comments in Every Voice propaganda letters:

This is an important step for the company – understanding, in detail, what you think, what you want and how we can work together to make our airline even stronger.  Your voice matters, so please make sure that you take time to complete this survey.

You also have my guarantee that we as a management team will openly share with you the results of the survey, explaining what actions we will take across our airline to address the issues you raise.  I am committed to ensuring that we take action based on your feedback.

It’s really important that we get feedback from as many of you as possible. Every voice counts and we will use this feedback to redefine and adjust our improvement measures for next year

Every voice really does count and we – as a management team – will use this feedback to redefine and adjust our improvement measures for next year. We will communicate the improvement measures to you and you will be able to monitor the progress.

… is vital that we receive your feedback.

It is really important that we receive the views from as many of you as possible on our airline and Thomas Cook so we can properly shape our future as we strive to become the best sun, beach and leisure focused airline.
As I said last week, as a management team we are committed to feeding back to you once we have the results of the survey, and we will share with you our action plans as we take on board your feedback.
Your feedback is critical and will help the organisation identify the actions that will drive the Transformation and business success at Thomas Cook.

Here’s an interesting open letter from the HR Focus Magazine which also sheds a little light on the subject.

Dear employee,

If you were to give answers to the following questions, what would you say?

·         How do you feel about working for your organisation?

·         How will you describe the way the organisation treats you as an employee?

·         What will make you leave the organisation?

·         What are the organisation’s values and what do they mean?

·         What specific behaviours are aligned to the organisation’s values?

·         What is rewarded in the organisation?

·         Will you be comfortable sharing your answers (or thoughts) with your boss or any senior person in your organisation?

If some of the answers are negative, (or you do not know the answers), and you cannot have an open discussion about your concerns with a senior person within the organisation, you are probably disengaged; and disengaged employees are not productive.

You probably work with an organisation that touts the fact that ‘employees are their greatest asset’. However on a daily basis, the behaviour you observe from those who should know better is totally inconsistent with this. For example:

·         You have a great idea on how certain ways of working or services could be improved, but the last time someone within the organisation brought up a bright idea, he was told it was not his job to come up with ideas. And yet ‘innovation’ is one of the company’s values or

·         Whilst the company says ‘customer satisfaction’ is important, you very often see your managers grumble anytime they have to attend customer requests; and they never return customer calls or

·         Your company values ‘respect’, yet employees are treated differently depending on how senior they are or

·         Anytime you try to be ‘proactive’, you are denigrated as being ‘all knowing’ or

·         The only people recognised and rewarded are those who achieve results through individual effort, yet ‘teamwork’ is supposed to be encouraged.

The list could go on and on, and I am sure you get the drift.

It is therefore not surprising that you have very little emotional connection with the work you do and the organisation you work for.

You think back and recap how you got recruited to the organisation and recollect the interview.  You remember that no questions were asked about how you fit into the organisational culture, or whether or not you were aligned to their values. The focus was solely on technical competence and previous experience.

You then remember your first week at work. There was no formal induction. You were literally on your own and had to find things out for yourself. No one shared the company’s mission, vision, goals, strategy and vision; yet you are expected to contribute to the success of the business. A lot of what you learnt was from informal interactions with peers in the organisation-some of it very contradictory and confusing. As a result, for a very long time you had no idea what the performance expectations were and how they will be measured. You also did not know what learning and development support existed and what career prospects there were. And yet your organisation says it believes in developing its people.

Very often you have to close from work late; not necessarily because there is a lot of work to do, but more because it is perceived that those who stay longer are the hard working ones. This you find very amusing because most of the time, those who stay on do virtually no work. Many are undertaking private courses and use this time to study, whilst others just ‘kill time’.

So here you are, musing over your current situation, wondering how come your once exciting career has become dull and why it takes so much effort to get out of bed, go to the office and work with passion to exceed expectations.

The answer is simple. It has nothing to do with your capabilities, and everything to do with the culture of the organisation you work for.  The way the organisation works, the relationship it has with its employees and customers, its values and environment has affected you and the way you work. Trying to make a difference is like swimming against the tide, and sooner than later you give up.

Dear employee, like many things in life, you have a choice. In this case, you either stay in your current organisation where ‘presentism’ is high (i.e. everyone turns up for work, closes late but achieves very little), become de-motivated and become an average performer; or simply find a new job.

By the way, the next time you are job hunting, spend as much time researching the company’s culture (behaviour, relationships, attitudes, values and environment) as you will spend researching the company’s product and profitability. Where possible, go beyond the company’s website. Read news items, reviews on products and services, customers’ perceptions and opinions etc. The bottom line is that, you are unlikely to be successful working in an organisation whose values do not align with yours, and sooner or later you will be disengaged.

I strongly urge you to share this with your HR Manager, and ask him or her whether he or she is confident that all the high performing employees do not feel the same way you do.

I wish you well.

Sigismund Dzeble – Head of HR – PZ Cussons


Update June 2014

Here is a link to the latest action plan as a result of the Every Voice survey.


Smart Thinking

In keeping with this post here is a summary of what I have learnt from this article which is reproduced in part from Enterpreneur

1 Think of memory as contextual and designed to give you information about what to expect and how to solve problems in that setting or environment

2 Stop multi-tasking and use your whole body to focus and pay attention see this post.

3 From every new leaning focus on just three key points to remember and record this down either on paper or on a blog.

Most of us think that having a good memory is a trait that’s outside of our control. But good memory is a skill and learning how to improve it can help you become a more creative and innovativer.

The first step is changing the way you think about your memory. Your memory isn’t designed to remember names, find missing keys, or store every password you’ve ever created. Your memory is designed to work in context. For example, if you try to make a list of every vegetable you can remember, you will make a much longer list if you imagine walking through a grocery store.

“What your memory is really for is giving you information about what to expect in the world and how to solve problems in those situations,” says Art Markman, a cognitive psychologist and author of Smart Thinking (Perigee Trade, 2012). Ideally, you want your memory to be filled with useful information that helps you solve tough business problems.

To store substantive memories that will make you a more creative thinker, try these three tips:

1. Engage both your body and mind. If you want to remember new ideas, you need to listen and focus. First, stop multitasking. “The human mind doesn’t multitask really, it timeshares,” Markman says. “You end up flipping back and forth between tasks, which makes all of your learning less effective.”

To enhance your memory even more, engage your body as you listen. Sit up straight, take notes, stand up if you feel tired, gesture or move around a bit. “Engage your whole self,” Markman says. “We’re not just brains in a box.”

2. Review three points you want to remember. When you learn new information (by reading a book or attending a meeting, for example), you tend to remember only about three things. To control what you remember, Markman recommends reviewing the three takeaways that matter most to you. “Otherwise, you leave the three points up to chance,” he says.

When the information is fresh in your mind, take a few minutes to review the most useful points. Try saying them into a tape recorder, writing them in a journal, or recounting them to a friend. “That helps solidify those three points in your memory,” Markman says.

3. Explain new concepts to yourself. For an entrepreneur, a rich memory helps you combine disparate ideas to find a novel solution. “To do that, you need to understand how the world works,” Markman says. You gain that knowledge — and remember it — by explaining new concepts to yourself or to someone else.