Flying Culture

Stepping off the plane on to the tarmac it feels like I’m stepping into a film set.  A bright red Bond helicopter flies low overhead, several others taxi into position nearby.

This place is full of purposeful activity.  Yet that is not unusual for this commute to work.

The reason for writing this blog entry is what happened on the flight.

Most of you will be familiar with air travel for holidays and work.  Everyone is in a rush to get on the plane, then reaching up to get bags out of the overhead lockers as you taxi to the stand, then the rush out.

The flights on this run are different.

The first thing you notice is the rapt attention the passengers pay to the cabin crew demonstrating the safety features.  People even look round to notice where the nearest exits are.  You only hear the sound of seat belts unbuckled when the plane has stopped and the sign switched off.  Go on, be honest, when was the last time you paid attention to the safety demonstration?

You may be thinking, ah he must be on a plane with people who have not flown before.  Actually, no.  My fellow passengers are seasoned travellers who have more air miles than most.

One clue is our destination, Dyce airport.

Another clue then, it is in Aberdeen, UK.

As well as normal flights Dyce is one of the world’s busiest commercial heliports  serving the UK oil and gas industry in the North Sea.  The people on my flight are going to be working in this sector.

Mention health and safety to the general UK population and eyes will roll, attention will waver.  In the oil and gas industry you will get focussed attention.  It is no exaggeration to state that people’s lives depend on this.

Safe working is deeply ingrained in the working culture of everyone in the oil and gas industry to the point that it is recognisable in the behaviour of everyone who works here.

There is constant attention paid to safety.  It really matters.  Go in to any of the offices of an oil and gas company, you’ll see people holding the handrails when they use the stairs.  When they take coffee back to their desks they put lids on hot drinks cups.  You’ll miss many other behaviour details that have become so embedded that the people hardly realise they are working to keep themselves and everyone around them safe.

This is why my fellow passengers were so diligent.  It’s noticeable and reassuring.  It has other effects too:

When I go to the office, I hold the handrails on the stairs.  When I stay in hotel rooms I now walk the fire escape route and count the doors to my exit so I can make the trip in pitch black if necessary.

This culture is contagious, it matters, and when you work amongst these men and women they notice that you’ve paid attention to their way of working.  I keep getting invited back to facilitate senior management meetings.  Setting modesty aside I am good at what I do, but there is also a recognition that we share a mutual understanding.

Culture is not a switch you can throw.   You and I know this doesn’t happen overnight.  When done well, it is the culmination of an age of consistent, purposeful communication, we pick up on these signals because we sense it matters.

Now, I’m at the airport door, it’s a one way road, but I still look both ways.  I cross and head to the cab rank for my taxi to work, this time for the board of one of the  larger companies here in Aberdeen.

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