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This post is part of an HBR Spotlight examining leadership lessons from the military.
Two long minutes passed since we had changed radio frequencies and I hadn’t heard from my wingmen. We were approaching the Iraqi border and my flight lead still had not checked me in. I was getting nervous.
Having no radio contact at 20,000 feet and separated from my fellow pilots by 10 miles on a night combat mission in hostile territory was a dire situation. What if I lost my engine or was engaged by ground fire? How could I call for help? Without my radio, I felt extremely alone and vulnerable.
Suddenly my back-up VHF radio blared with the terse (yet comforting) sound of my flight lead, “2, come up 239.9.” I responded with a “2″ and changed frequencies immediately. He continued, “Vipers, check in!” We responded in a crisp, monotone cadence, “2, 3, 4.” We were now marching to the same beat.
“Vipers, FENCE-IN, Check Master-Arm Hot!” I flipped the master arm switch to the “hot” position, readying my weapons to be fired. We were now one synchronized formation, with a clear flight plan and a mission objective that had been delivered in our pre-mission briefing. Our radios and radar were the links that tied us together. We were ready for battle.
Communication in military combat is essential to successfully execute a plan. It ensures safety, keeps everyone focused on their responsibilities, and builds awareness in rapidly changing environments.
In the heat of battle, where effective communication is critical, fighter pilots:
Brief the mission in order to establish objectives, delegate responsibilities, analyze threats, and review contingency plans.
Establish a communication (“comm”) game plan which confirms when and where to change frequencies.
Ensure positive two-way communication is established during critical elements of a mission.
Brief a back-up plan in case communication fails (known as “radio-out” procedures).
Debrief every mission to review lessons learned and reinforce training.
As a business leader, do you have a “comm plan” with your employees and colleagues? Are you taking the time to brief your missions to ensure all your wingmen are on the same wave length and understand their roles, responsibilities, and objectives? Finally, are you aware of those who might be on the wrong frequency or off course? What’s your plan to get them back on target?
Checking in with your wingmen, listening to their questions, and understanding their challenges are fundamental components of teamwork and leadership. They are the cornerstones in building an environment of mutual support and trust. . Here are several communication “wingtips” gleaned from my experience as a fighter pilot that can apply to you as a business leader:
• Have a mass briefing at least once a month. Gather your troops and communicate the latest trends, organizational goals, sales updates, and product upgrades etc. Your wingmen need to hear important news — whether good or bad — from you first. This is also a great time to publicly recognize your top performers.
• Conduct feedback sessions on a regular basis. Sit down with your wingmen and let them know how they are doing. Are they meeting your expectations? Ask them about their goals and challenges and how you can help. Then solicit feedback on you as a leader. What would they like to see from you? Avoid letting your ego get in the way of their feedback.
• Walk the flight line. Get your hands dirty with your wingmen. Spend time with them on the job and observe how they do business. Ask questions. Show them your appreciation by connecting with them as people first and employees second.
• De-brief your missions. Remove your “rank” and conduct a nameless, blameless, and rank-less de-brief after every critical mission. Find out if objectives were met, and analyze why they weren’t. Search for trends and communicate these to the rest of your organization.
Your aim should be to listen as much as possible in order to build what we call situational awareness — a comprehensive understanding of the mission. The greater your situational awareness, the better your ability to handle contingencies and adapt to change. As the flight lead of your team, it’s very important that you create an environment where others can come to you for help. This inspires a culture of trust which is mission critical in business.
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Lt. Col. Rob “Waldo” Waldman is the author of Never Fly Solo and a leadership consultant.
Here is an excerpt of an article co-authored by David Edelman and Brian Salsberg that is featured at the McKinsey Quarterly website. To read the complete article, check out other resources, and sign up for a free online subscription with limited access, please click here.
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Changes to the way consumers perceive and absorb marketing messages will force marketers to change not only their thinking but also the way they allocate spending and organize operations.
The rough guide to marketing success used to be that you got what you paid for. No longer. While traditional “paid” media—such as television and radio commercials, print advertisements, and roadside billboards—still play a major role, companies today can exploit many alternative forms of media. Consumers enamored of a product may, for example, create “earned” media by willingly promoting it to friends, and a company may leverage “owned” media by sending e-mail alerts about products and sales to customers registered with its Web site. In fact, the way consumers now approach the process of making purchase decisions means that marketing’s impact stems from a broad range of factors beyond conventional paid media.
These expanding media forms reflect dramatic changes in the way consumers perceive and absorb marketing messages.1 As a result, some strategic-marketing frameworks—such as the popular “paid, owned, earned” one—are in serious need of updating. Many marketers use this framework to distinguish different ways of interacting with consumers, forms of financing, and measures of performance for each contact.
Yet the paid, owned, earned framework increasingly looks too limited. How, for example, should a marketing strategist for a company react to requests from other companies to purchase advertising space on its product sites? How should a company deal with online activists when they take hold of a product or campaign to push a negative emotional response against it?
Two media types must therefore be added to the framework: “sold” and “hijacked.” These new forms of media, which demand sustained investment and attention, challenge the traditional strategies, structure, and operations of most marketing organizations. Yet marketers should view their expanding range of media options not only as a challenge but also as an opportunity worth grasping, to encourage readers to share content or even create their own.
Five forms of media
Too many companies view marketing plans as little more than an exercise in where and when to buy media placement. Yet as the number of digital interactions increases, marketers must recognize the power that lies beyond traditional paid media.
1. Paid media include traditional advertising and similar vehicles: a company pays for space or for a third party to promote its products. This market is far from dying; options for marketers are expanding exponentially with the emergence of more targeted cable TV, online-display placement, and other channels, not to mention online video and search marketing, which are attracting greater interest.
2. The second category, owned media, consists of properties or channels owned by the company that uses them for marketing purposes (such as catalogs, Web sites, retail stores, and alert programs that e-mail notifications of special offers).
3. Earned media are generated when the quality or uniqueness of a company’s products and content compel consumers to promote the company at no cost to itself through external or their own “media.”
Starbucks, for example, announced in July that its Facebook fan base exceeded ten million people, the highest of any US corporation. The company directly links its recent strong performance to its social-networking efforts and “crowd sourced” innovations such as “My Starbucks Idea,” a Web site where anyone can suggest ways to make the company better.
Similarly, Honda Japan undertook a promotion on the social-networking site Mixi, where more than 630,000 people registered for information about the launch of its new CR-Z vehicle. The company automatically added “CR-Z” to these users’ Mixi login names (for example, “Taro CR-Z”) and gave them a chance to win a car. Nonregistered users wondered why people suddenly had login names incorporating CR-Z. Thanks to the buzz, prelaunch orders reached 4,500 units, and actual sales topped 10,000 units in the first month.
4. Sold media: Paid and owned media are controlled by marketers touting their own products. For earned media, such marketers act as the initial catalyst for users’ responses. But in some cases, one marketer’s owned media become another marketer’s paid media—for instance, when an e-commerce retailer sells ad space on its Web site. We define such sold media as owned media whose traffic is so strong that other organizations place their content or e-commerce engines within that environment.
This trend, which we believe is still in its infancy, effectively began with retailers and travel providers such as airlines and hotels and will no doubt go further. Johnson & Johnson, for example, has created BabyCenter, a stand-alone media property that promotes complementary and even competitive products.
Besides generating income, the presence of other marketers makes the site seem objective, gives companies opportunities to learn valuable information about the appeal of other companies’ marketing, and may help expand user traffic for all companies concerned.
5. Hijacked media: The same dramatic technological changes that have provided marketers with more (and more diverse) communications choices have also increased the risk that passionate consumers will voice their opinions in quicker, more visible, and much more damaging ways. Such hijacked media are the opposite of earned media: an asset or campaign becomes hostage to consumers, other stakeholders, or activists who make negative allegations about a brand or product. Members of social networks, for instance, are learning that they can hijack media to apply pressure on the businesses that originally created them.
High-profile examples involve companies ranging from Nestlé (whose Facebook page was hijacked) to Domino’s Pizza (a prank online video of two employees contaminating sandwiches appeared on YouTube).
In each case, passionate consumers tried to persuade others to boycott products, putting the reputation of the target company at risk. When that happens, the company’s response may not be sufficiently quick or thoughtful, and the learning curve has been steep. Toyota Motor, for example, mitigated some of the damage from its recall crisis earlier this year with a relatively quick and well-orchestrated social-media response campaign, which included efforts to engage with consumers directly on sites such as Twitter and the social-news site Digg.
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David Edelman is a principal in McKinsey’s Boston office, and Brian Salsberg is a principal in the Tokyo office.
To read the complete article, check out other resources, and sign up for a free online subscription with limited access, please click here.