3 Tips for Navigating Turbulence (Not Just on Airplanes)

As much as I hate to admit it, I am a nervous flier. 

Even though turbulence is “ordinarily seen as a convenience issue, not a safety issue,” it always makes my stomach flip while my hands grip the armrest until my circulation is nearly cut off. 

On airplanes, pilots can find smoother air by increasing or decreasing altitude. But what if turbulence occurs in other parts of your life, as in business? Can leaders steer the proverbial ship to avoid it? McKinsey & Company, one of the nation’s leading management consulting firms, provides some suggestions.

The last several years in the business community have been fraught with challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. More recently, inflation, rising interest rates and a bottle-necked supply chain have given rise to additional issues. One might argue that leading a successful business has never been harder. But there are several priorities to keep in mind to help manage through these, and other, secular trends.

First, according to McKinsey, have resilience. Resilience can be defined as “the ability of a system or organization to respond to or recover readily from a crisis, disruptive process, etc.”  Forbes says that, “Resilience is built by attitudes, values and behaviors that can be adopted and cultivated over time.” Not only will resilience help one manage a business under less-than-ideal conditions, but it is also a great example to set for employees, who play a key part in a company’s success.

Second, have courage. That may sound a bit “touchy-feely,” but it is exactly what may be needed to effectively manage through difficult times. The knee-jerk reaction is to pull back and wait things out, but what if adapting to the situation, instead, and powering forward is really the best course of action? 

In our organization for example, we must apply and impart courage to the practice of investor relations and strategic public relations in a down market and when economic conditions are tenuous. We strongly believe that hiding when things are tough is the wrong decision. As our (courageous) CEO Roger Pondel said during an interview with SNN, “… communicating with current and prospective investors during bear markets may at first seem counterintuitive … but investors are eager to invest in solid companies at perceived bargain prices.” Shining a light on why your company deserves to be looked at can give you an advantage against those that are hiding their heads in the sand.

And finally, have trust. Easier said than done, but if a plan is being implemented (like a transatlantic flight plan), it’s important to realize that a team of professionals weighed the challenges and put together a strategy designed to achieve whatever goal set. Like arriving to London from New York safely.

Trusting employees also is good practice. For example, Covid necessitated remote working, and many companies went virtual on a permanent basis. Even as the pandemic began to abate, employees embraced this new way of life, expressing a desire to work from home. 

According to McKinsey, “flexibility is the new amenity employees want—especially those in diverse groups—and will embrace if you offer it.” Businesses that support the idea that people are their greatest asset, generally achieve better outcomes than those that don’t. A Harvard Business Review study noted “… companies that successfully transformed themselves shared a common focus on initiatives that prioritized employees.”

As we all work to optimize our businesses or life itself, it’s a good idea to take a step back and think of solutions through the lens of how we can deliver a great outcome. Airplane pilots do just that every day.

Laurie Berman, lberman@pondel.com