Blue Angels 'Boss' Stresses Need for Debrief in Ops

 - November 1, 2017, 10:28 PM

Former Blue Angels leader Greg “Boss” Wooldridge underscored the importance of a debrief to foster a culture of excellence whether in a business aviation flight department or on a Blue Angels tour. Wooldridge, the only commander to lead the Blue Angels three times, provided insight on his time with the U.S. Navy flight demonstration squadron during a keynote speech at the 2017 Bombardier Safety Standdown.

In his discussion on “Soaring To Peak Performance,” Wooldridge called a debrief—in which the Blue Angels could discuss issues that came up during a show in an open, non-punitive manner—a “game-changer” in elevating performance. The debrief often took as long as, if not longer than, the briefing session that occurred before every show. “Too often, debrief has a bad name,” he said, noting that many people wince at it because it brings up what went wrong. But with the Blue Angels, it is an opportunity forreflection, commitment to fix issues and a time for either mentoring others or being mentored. Each discussion ended with the same theme: “Glad to be here.”

Wooldridge noted he introduced a debriefing program during his time in FedEx. It was a different program than at the Blue Angels, but yielded results, he said. “We got better.  The debrief is about opening yourself up.”

This was particularly important following Blue Angels missions where a squadron would fly in formation as close as 18 inches apart. This kind of operation also required absolute trust, which involved a contract to perform the mission as promised, and substantial planning, he said.  He also highlighted the need for belief to reach the upper echelons of performance.

Wooldridge was among three speakers who opened the second day of the Safety Standdown. Amy Grubb, a senior industrial/organizational psychologist with the FBI, provided guidance on handling change in an organization. Grubb noted the rudimentary resistance people have toward change, using the military term “Vuca” (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity).

She advised patience and understanding to that resistance, but also the importance of preparing for the transition. “You don’t change instantly. Change is going to be hard. Make it less bad for less long,” she said. Grubb called fairness the key. Change in an organization needs to include procedural fairness with consistency and transparency; interpersonal fairness, with an understanding of how the change affects personnel; and informational fairness, with the communication of accurate and valuable information that is timely.

Grubb also praised the Safety Standdown, noting the lessons learned from the annual three-day event that she has been able to take back to her own organization.

Also among Wednesday’s General Session speakers was Bob Hobbi, the founder, president and CEO of ServiceElements International, who urged attendees to be aware of the shifting expectations of their clients. The industry is changing rapidly, he said, and so have the users of business aviation. He has found that operators often believe they have delivered more value than the customer perceived. “How do you know you met their expectations?” he asked, stressing that not all dissatisfied customers complain.

Hobbi encouraged the audience to be proactive and manage expectations, rather than working to meet expectations. Operators must impress upon their customers that the top services are safety and security, he said. “You can’t have service and safety colliding. We need them to work together.”

As for service, he emphasized the importance of watching the smallest details, relaying an anecdote of a top executive who hesitated to ask for catsup as part of the catering. He had previously asked for it, but realized he would need to repeat the request to have it consistently. The executive, Hobbi said, didn’t want to be the imposing customer with that constant request. But Hobbi warned to the audience at Safety Standdown, that from a customer’s mind, if a detail such as catsup is overlooked, "What else might be overlooked?"

Given the cost-per-hour of business aviation, he said, “expect mass customization.” But that doesn’t mean the operator has to comply with every request. It comes down to managing those requests.