SPEED IS LIFE

By Rob “Waldo” Waldman, Lt. Col., CSP

On time, on target – the key to outstanding business execution

For a fighter pilot in combat, speed is everything.  It improves maneuverability, allows faster target engagement, and it can be ‘converted’ to a higher altitude for better situational awareness of the battlefield. Speed is also essential when aborting a mission or avoiding a formidable threat.  It can save your life.

That’s why we have a saying in the jet fighter community: Speed is life.

Those three simple words took on a new meaning for me, my squadron and a group of engineers in April of 1999, and taught me a vital lesson.

My wingmen and I were in a daily full-fledged air-to-ground battle with the corrupt regime of Slobodan Milosevic during Operation Allied Force.  The enemy forces in Serbia had formidable surface-to-air weapons and their radar systems were doing a very effective job at tracking our aircraft. They even shot a few fighters down.

Our mission in the 79th Fighter Squadron: track and destroy these enemy radar sites using the HARM Targeting System (HTS) in conjunction with the HARM (High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile). Both systems were built by the defense contracting company Raytheon.  Initially, our squadron was very effective at eliminating the enemy sites, but after just a few weeks they were able to jam our targeting systems. Our mission effectiveness dropped rapidly and we were now all at risk.  It was a do-or-die situation and we needed help…fast!

We called Raytheon and explained our dangerous predicament.  In just a few days, their engineers were on base briefing us on a revised plan to defeat the threat. I’ll never forget the site in our huge, secure, fortified hangar – three engineers in khaki pants and buttoned down shirts briefing over 100 pilots in sweaty flight suits!  They asked questions and then listened.  They went back to the drawing board and worked on a solution. Within a day, we had upgraded software for the HTS and HARM loaded into the F-16s’ computers.  We went from vulnerable to mission ready, just like that.

Raytheon was living the concept of “speed is life.” When we asked them for help, they didn’t reply, “Thanks for the feedback guys. We’ll get back to you in a few weeks.”  They knew lives were on the line.  Their sense of urgency and commitment to serving us – the customer – drastically improved our mission effectiveness and possibly saved lives.

Today there is a “new normal” in business. Like Raytheon, we all have to be more responsive and more in tune with prospects, clients and our operating environment. More than ever, speed and timing are essential to stay ahead of the competition.

Want to have more speed in business? Try implementing these “speed wingtips:”

1. Speed to market.  Avoid “analysis paralysis.”  Instead of endlessly talking, testing and planning as you try to make a new product or service perfect, get it to market NOW.  The Raytheon team didn’t run back to the lab for endless testing and re-testing. They tested the solution in real time. While you never want to market a faulty or inadequate product, one that is 97% ready to go can be good enough to serve your customer’s needs (and still beat the competition.)

2. Get timely intel on targets. Keep your “business radar” sweeping for qualified prospects and leads. You need to use every available resource to keep abreast of potential new clients and relevant up to date intelligence on your market.  Yesterday’s news does not work for today’s prospects.  Social media (like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook), networking events, and information from industry publications are great intelligence resources.

3. Speed to target!  How fast do you follow-up on a hot lead or get back to a prospect or current customer who requests information or needs help? (Hint: Immediately is a good response.) Today, with constant connectivity to the web, people expect answers quickly and simply are not willing to wait. For critical information, don’t just send an e-mail response. Pick up the phone and personally connect. If necessary, meet your prospect in person like Raytheon did.

4. Quick mission follow up. After a meeting or conclusion of a business engagement, always send a thank you card right away (hand written and hand addressed singles you out.)  Did you get the business or lead with the help of a wingman?  Send a thank you to that person as well.

5. Debrief every mission:  Whenever possible, a post mission debriefing should be conducted with a client or prospect.  Go through the good, bad and ugly.  Be open to any type of feedback. Sometimes, a request or complaint may result. Both are opportunities to soar. A request means the chance to prove your value – even if it’s outside your skill set. Find a wingman in your network who can help you and your client. You’ll prove yourself to be a great “go to” resource. Complaints? Deal with them quickly and use them as opportunities to improve performance. Finally, never delay saying “I’m sorry” when you mess up.  Mistakes happen.  Clean them up quickly and then move on.

In a competitive business climate, speed is indeed life.  And while your life may not be on the line (like it was for me and my wingmen in Kosovo), the life of your business is.  Like Raytheon, go above and beyond to be proactive and demonstrate how your customer service is different from the competition.  When you do, you’ll gain loyalty, trust, and yes…maybe even a valuable new client.

Never Fly Solo!


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