You've been there. The project is critical. There is hardly enough time and the stakes are high. The pressure is on. There is no room for error. If you get it right, everything is happy, and you are the hero. If you get it wrong, tragedy strikes and everyone, including your client, your staff, and probably your family at home will see you as a loser.
Richard Phillips, CEO of Pilot Freight Services, works under this kind of pressure everyday. His company handles logistics for major corporations who have to get things delivered, set up and working in many areas of the world with little or no margin for error.
His company is often asked to handle unique or complex operations. "Usually when we are asked to do something extraordinary, it is also mission critical for the customer," revealed Phillips. "Our first-time efforts are always live, and they take place on highways, in busy warehouses, on airport tar macs, and in remote locations around the world." People's fortunes and sometimes lives can be on the line. Getting things done right the first time around is usually the only option.
Phillips, a member of the Young Presidents' Organization (YPO), shared some great tips on how to make sure you and your team won't buckle under pressure when the mission is critical.
1. Maintain a culture of responsibility.
Ensuring that a project is done right the first time places a tremendous amount of responsibility on those involved. If they are not ready to take on this responsibility, then failure could be imminent. "Every Pilot employee knows that they are responsible for every shipment in our system," said Phillips. "There is no such thing as somebody else's problem."
2. Maintain a culture of ownership.
It's a good thing to be responsible, and several people may have a part to play in a big project. But someone needs to be accountable for the overall success. "Even though every employee is responsible for every shipment, every shipment belongs primarily to one person, or one team, who knows that it needs to be proactive in managing the process if we are going to be successful," elaborated Phillips.
3. Maintain a culture of truth.
Mistakes are often unavoidable in high-stakes situations. With such high pressure, some people may feel compelled to avoid telling the whole truth when something is amiss, if only to save their jobs. Phillips makes sure his people are encouraged to be truth sayers no matter the outcome. "Every Pilot employee knows that pointing out a potential problem is always a good thing," he asserted. "Even if the news is bad."
4. Study the project extensively.
In a high stakes, complex mission, any detail missed could lead to disaster. "Know absolutely everything you can about customers and what you are doing for them before you start. Know the customers' needs. Know their operations," added Phillips. "For us that means we don't just know a shipment is critical. We know why. Is it fragile? In what way is it fragile? Know the suppliers. How often are they late? How do they like their materials to be picked up? Check the weather. Know the height of the dock doors. Make sure the lift gate is in working order. Check the weather again. Know the hours of operation for every facility where you might be picking up or dropping off freight. Know the after-hours security guard's name. Does he have a pet? Know the pet's name. Most important, know precisely what you are capable of and what you are going to do. You can often gain experience without risk if you learn everything you can about the world in which you are operating."
5. Know when to say "No" to a customer.
It's great to be a hero all the time, unless you can't. "If there is a significant risk of failure, your customer will thank you for saying so," recommended Phillips. "You will gain credibility, enhance the customer relationship, and more importantly, you will be serving them appropriately."
6. Start small to iron out the kinks.
When you have a big operation that has to be perfect out of the gate, you need to create your own testing ground. "We know there are always consequences to failure, but if we can try a program in one or two cities, and then stop and learn our lessons before rolling out a program globally, we can save ourselves a lot of headaches," shared Phillips.
7. Constantly communicate with your team members.
Knowledge is useless in a team scenario unless it's shared. Leaving anyone out of the communication could lead to unexpected mistakes when the pressure gets cranked up. "Talk to your fellow employees and when they talk to you, listen," stated Phillips. "There are very few problems that can arise that cannot be resolved, if you know about them."
8. Keep the outside parties in the loop.
Everyone both inside and outside your team has to work in sync to get critical projects done. Don't leave it to chance that your outside teams know what's happening. "Stay in touch with every vendor and know how they are planning on performing their piece of the operation," remarked Phillips. He also stresses the need to manage the customer expectations along the way. "Stay in touch with the customer and keep them up to date on what is going on. Do this even when things are going just as planned. Yes it is boring. In my world, boring equals success."
9. Have a contingency plan... for everything.
Phillips owes much of his success to his team's planning capabilities. By thinking through every possible contingency and solution in advance they save time and stress when things actually do go wrong, even if it is a scenario they didn't expect. "Know exactly how you will respond if the supplier is late, if the plane has mechanical trouble, if there is a snowstorm in the Midwest," pointed out Phillips. "Three am is usually a bad time to try and get creative. So do your innovative problem solving beforehand."
10. Create a team that wants to succeed.
Success in mission critical projects happens when everyone is happily playing together. Your employees, vendors and clients have to have trust and desire that the project is worthy and achievable. Take care of them as individuals and support them as a team so together you can accomplish miracles. "When all three of these groups act as one community, problems are rare, and there is very little that cannot be fixed," concluded Phillips.
Each week Kevin explores exclusive stories inside the (YPO), the world's premiere peer-to-peer organization for chief executives, eligible at age 45 or younger.