Why you need ‘quick wins’ – even in aviation

Written by: Rob Williams
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Aviation is not renowned for acting quickly on anything. But even in this behemoth of an industry, where essential safety and regulatory requirements often slow things down, there is a place for 'quick wins'. It might even be argued that they become more important in this kind of environment. So, why are they important, how do you identify them and when is the right time to step away from them?

What is a 'quick win'?

A quick win is a small victory. A small part of a greater goal that you have achieved in a short time frame. I've heard it described as 'low hanging fruit' (easy to pick). It need not be profound, but it should be something that many stakeholders agree is a good thing.

Quick wins prove that change can happen, no matter how small. The people who say "that's the way we've always done things" can now see that it doesn't have to be that way. A few years ago, the Harvard Business Review (HBR) published some research results on the importance of quick wins in business success. Leaders who pursued quick wins performed 20% to 30% higher than their peers; and those with the greatest team building and people development skills performed nearly 60% better. HBR says that the best type of quick win is a collective quick win, one that makes your team look good as well as benefiting the wider business.

Quick wins build momentum

Quick wins provide project momentum by driving early value and improved Return on Investment (ROI). They also provide confidence to the broader organisation (and external stakeholders) that the wider project (or strategic direction) is viable and should be supported.

Leading change is extremely difficult. Whether you're trying to implement a new way of working, rolling out a new system or building a new team, it's challenging. Quick wins will make the job easier for you and reduce stress on the project team too.

What does a quick win look like?

There are no hard and fast rules, but if you can answer 'yes' to the following questions, you are probably onto something. Is it:

  • Low risk?
  • Limited in scope?
  • Will stakeholders buy-in?
  • Implementable within 90 days?
  • High confidence of a positive impact?
  • High visibility across the organisation?
  • Does your team have the authority to implement the change?

One leading international hub airport we work for asked us to look at safety concerns at a staff entrance point. Going for a full redesign of the area was going to take months and so the Helios consultant worked with the airport design team to propose a number of short-term changes to layout and design and processes that could be funded and implemented quickly.

Other examples of quick wins could include eliminating unnecessary steps from a process, changing inefficient procedures or something as mundane as redesigning forms. Or it might tackle some of the 'softer' issues that can block change, like improving communications or delivering training.

Don't lose sight of the overall strategy

Quick wins are all well and good, but they still need to support the overall goals of the organisation (or the bigger project). It can be tempting to focus the team's attention on ideas that have potential for quick results, ignoring the more strategic stuff.

One way to help manage this is to create a hybrid plan covering both quick wins and strategic projects. The quick wins generate the immediate results that your stakeholders might be looking for. They will also help buy time for the strategic projects to be done properly and benefits to kick in.

Reporting

Quick wins feel good to you and your team. There's nothing like ticking a deliverable off your list and then being able to report on it. The positive energy created from success gives you, and the people you work with, much-needed energy to deal with the bigger challenges ahead. So, be sure to measure and report the benefits of quick wins separately, as well as their resources or requirements. Make key stakeholders aware of the benefits you have quickly achieved. Quick wins need to be widely communicated as well as celebrated.

A word of caution

Quick wins are not to be confused with shortcuts, too often damaging and potentially dangerous. True quick wins are simply indicators that the journey has started, improvement has begun, rather than 'problem solved.'

HBR warns that for new leaders (or people new to the organisation) quick wins can create more problems than they solve: "No matter how sophisticated and mature the new leader may be, rushing too quickly toward early wins can deprive the new leader of the insight needed to understand the culture and build relationships. As a consequence, quick wins may soon be undone, or they may beget new leadership problems."

Quick wins are most effective in the hands of established leaders or project teams familiar with the organisation and its stakeholders. This is where market experience and expertise really pay off. What will your next quick win be?

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