Managing Your Newly Hired Pilot, Part 3

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In Part 2, we discussed preparing your new hire for training and familiarizing them with the flight department’s SOPs.

The new hire wants to achieve their objectives, which may not be the same as yours. Ideally, the objectives are the same. But even if they are not, you might be able to satisfy both.

Your objectives might be as simple as to fill the flight schedule with competent crew members. While every situation is different, you might also want to develop the new hire into something more.

This can be a problem if the new hire just wants to do the basic job and then go home. Running a small flight department is difficult enough without having one or two “all I want to do is fly” pilots.

Some new hires see the job as a stepping-stone to something better. Better aircraft, better location, better pay. They will leave as soon as “better” shows up. While rare, every now and then you will find a new hire with a hidden agenda beyond explanation.

As the boss, it is important to realize nobody else has the same focus on filling the trip schedule while developing a back bench of talent for the future. As good as the job is, every employee is on temporary loan from the larger pool of people out there. If you assume your people are in your care for a limited time and have objectives that go beyond yours, you will be better prepared to keep them for as long as possible while preparing them for the next step in their careers.

So much for the pep talk, how do you do all that?

I find that having an open policy of upgrading everyone as quickly and as high as possible serves to not only motivate the person being upgraded, but also has two other effects that greatly improve your operation. First, it motivates the rest of the organization. Second, it becomes a selling point for other potential new hires.

Upgrading a first officer to captain does indeed improve the new captain’s job prospects outside your company, but it may also motivate that captain to stay in the books.

Over the years I’ve probably lost about a quarter of the newly upgraded captains to other jobs that paid more or offered some other motivation outside our organization. But the other three-quarters stayed, and I think the word of the policy encouraged our next new hires to volunteer.

Keep on good terms with those who leave. When these people talk about your organization in retrospect, the way you treated them will win your organization fans and make getting the next new hire that much easier.

Motivating The ‘Troops’

Group effort
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When I started squadron life as an Air Force second lieutenant, I was amazed by the many hidden agendas and political games used by the “old heads” that seemed designed to make life miserable for us brand-new pilots.

As my squadrons became smaller and filled with more-senior pilots, there was less of that, but it still existed. My civilian flight departments have been even smaller, but still the games continued.

Some of your now more-senior people may see the new hire as someone who must pay their dues because they believe they had to. Some may look upon the new hire as a threat. If the flight department must downsize in the future, they realize the new hire could be retained while they are let go.

Or it could be that the new hire represents more work; somebody who must be trained, somebody who will be taking a few of our best trips during training, and somebody who will compete for the next good deal.

While many of these feelings might be natural, they can be destructive to morale if the senior people act out with gossip or even open hostility.

It is up to you, the boss, to understand the games people play. I’ve tried over the years to counsel the troublemakers, but they quite often are only temporarily fixable.

Try to pair the new hire with your best people at first. Ask your trusted agents to give the new hire an honest assessment of the landscape so they can prepare themselves for the politics to come.

Try assigning some of the training tasks to the troublemakers, letting them know that it is a duty they are getting because you know they can do it well. (Turn a troublemaker into an ally.) As the boss, you have a fine line to walk to avoid alienating some while looking out for others.

Much of this depends on your character. If you behave as you expect your people to behave, you have most of the battle won.

Try to remember Air Force Col. John Boyd’s credo on the subject:  “If your boss demands your loyalty, give your boss your integrity. If your boss demands your integrity, give your boss your loyalty.”

If you are deserving of that loyalty, you can and should expect integrity from all who follow you.

Epilogue: The New Pilot Is Assimilated and Assertive

As the boss of a flight department, you should be able to assign any crew to any trip and have confidence it will go off without any problems they can’t handle. But that doesn’t mean every first officer becomes a competent first officer, every captain becomes a competent captain, every mechanic becomes a better mechanic, and every flight coordinator becomes a better flight coordinator.

What it should mean is that every new hire eventually develops the skills to be able to take your place. Having people with the confidence and assertiveness to do their jobs well and look out for the well-being of the organization makes them stronger, you stronger and the organization stronger.

With this principle in mind, you can give your new hire the best chance to succeed. But I have more advice to give in the next installment of this series that is aimed squarely at the new hire.

James Albright

James is a retired U.S. Air Force pilot with time in the T-37B, T-38A, KC-135A, EC-135J (Boeing 707), E-4B (Boeing 747) and C-20A/B/C (Gulfstream III…