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Don't let a toxic culture hijack your schoolDon't let a toxic culture hijack your school

Having a proper business culture is key to a successful business. Just look at Google, Wegmans, and other top places to work as examples. What does a great culture look like, and how to do you get one? Let’s look first at what makes a toxic culture.

  • Allowing your CFIs to be overly harsh to one another within the confines of the school.
  • Keeping people on your team who are good at what they do, but are awful to everyone around them on a consistent basis.
  • Not realizing that people will often forget what you say or do, but they almost never forget how you made them feel.
  • Failing to show sincere appreciation for both your internal and external customers on a regular and consistent basis.
  • Failing to have a healthy sense of humor about yourself, and not actively encouraging all of your team to do the same.
  • Not recognizing that flight training is primarily a people business and helping those who come to you to achieve their goals.
  • If the internal politics in your school are way too big for the actual size of your team, then they probably are.
  • Allowing the antipathy that sometimes exists between maintainers and instructor pilots to come into your school (provided you employ both).
  • Allowing drama to proliferate in your flight school, and not expecting your team to maintain a professional and friendly work environment.

Most of this seems like common sense, doesn't it? Most school owners recognize the above issues when they happen. Many times, owners believe that simply because much of the angst is happening behind closed doors or out of sight of your external customers, no one gets affected.

The truth is there is never a watertight door between your business culture and your customers. A toxic culture is seen, felt, and sensed by your customers. If any of these things are happening, and the customer trains often enough with you—he or she will see it at some point. But the good news is that most toxic cultural problems can be stopped with simply the right attitude. Here’s how:

  • Let your team know you expect professional behavior within the workplace. Be as specific as you need to be. Make sure they understand this is with customers and with each other.
  • Lead by example. You must do this.
  • Take the time to objectively review your employees on a regular and predictable basis. People feel much better, and work much better, knowing where they stand.
  • Invest in the ongoing training of your staff.
  • Counsel those who make a habit of treating others poorly, no matter what their job performance or role. Dismiss them if they are unable or unwilling to improve. They're absolutely not worth it in the long run.
  • Let your team know how much you genuinely appreciate them. Repeat.
  • Have an established set of simple, understood, and straightforward policies for resolving disagreements or disputes.
  • Have team-building exercises on a regular basis. These can be done very inexpensively. A little goes a long way.
  • Empower your team to uphold the principles of your organization, and not just the policies.
  • Remember that the number one need that people have is appreciation. This goes for customers and team members.
  • An appropriate level of humility and quiet dignity are important in our business. They're often not found.

Having a tight, well run ship with good morale is an important element of keeping the business you already have and offering a high-quality product in a great environment. Enthusiasm and a positive mental attitude are contagious, even for students who only come for a handful of hours each week.

The best way to start this important discussion is with a question: What would your staff or customers say about you or the school if they thought you’d never know it was them saying it?

P. Jerry Lee is president and founder of aviation marketing and sales training firm Mach1 Consultants.

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