retaining aviation personnel panel of bizav experts

Last month, I blogged about why certain business aviation organizations might not be retaining aviation personnel.

In that post, I shared survey data gleaned from a survey that our team conducted prior to my “Innovation Zone” panel at NBAA-BACE.

As a follow-up, I’ll share both internal and external practices that affect employee retention in business aviation—and highlight some keen insights from our panel of bizav experts, which included:

  • Jennifer Alessio – Director of Aviation, Hewlett Packard Enterprise
  • Jim Bennett – Director of Aviation, Starbucks
  • Milt Hobbs – Managing Director for Global Aviation, JPMorgan Chase
  • Dan Williams – VP of Aviation and Global Travel, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Keeping Things ‘Sticky’

First, though, let’s set the stage by talking about the important goal of retaining aviation personnel by keeping organization “sticky.”

In other words, give your employees plenty of reasons for wanting to stay in your company and not move on.

As discussed in the previous post, our survey indicated that the heart of employee loyalty centers on a “holy trinity” of factors:

  1. Have a well-defined (and positive) culture in your company.
  2. Have a healthy measure of transparency within your organization.
  3. Offer your employees scheduling that allows for life/balance.

These are all “internal” factors for retention—things that you are doing within your organizations. But what about the “external” influencers on employee retention?

As we discovered, the major dynamic in these cases is giving your employees the freedom to truly be involved in the aviation industry they serve.

More pointedly, let them participate on industry committees and in trade organizations. Let them extend themselves beyond your hangar doors.

Another external factor is your employees’ involvement in continuing education. And I’m not talking about continuing ed just in the aviation field.

I mean opening up opportunities for employees to gain additional skills in general business practices and other, more generic skill training, things to help them improve their overall professionalism and skill levels.

The Experts Weigh In

During our panel discussion, we had the privilege of hearing from some of our aviation industry’s most respected voices regarding what they’re doing in their companies to aid the cause of talent retention.

Here’s what this group of professionals told us:

Milt Hobbs: “To keep your company ‘sticky’ you have to engage your employees from every angle.

You have to get them engaged in the idea that they’re being paid fairly, and that we—the company—care about their quality of life.

And when we get them engaged within their own departments, they won’t want to go somewhere else because they understand that their opinion is valued.”

‘Internal Mobility’

Milt Hobbs: “For us, we’ve learned that the major factor influencing retention is internal mobility. What can I do and where can I go within the company?

And we answered that by developing a program where we asked every one of our employees to create a plan that essentially answers the question: where do they want to be 5 to 10 years from now?

And, with their responses, we figured out a plan for using the aviation industry to see if we could help them get where they’d like to go.

If they have a safety bent, for example, well, there are a lot of opportunities in that arena. Or if they singled out ‘technology’ we helped them find some things in that field. Or ‘maintenance’.

Once our employees understood that we were serious about this program, well, our surveys came back to indicate that we’d moved the needle up on the internal mobility question by 25 percent or so, and we felt that was a strong result for us.

So if we don’t happen to have the positions or the opportunities to help them feel greater internal mobility, we went outside and found those external opportunities, and that filled that gap for us.”

Work/Life Balance

Jim Bennett: “One of the things that we do right from the point of the interview process is to set expectations in terms of scheduling work/life balance, compensation and professional development.

Doing that up front tends to minimize any anxieties that might develop with an employee later feeling they deserve more or having different expectations from when they first joined us. It’s generally handled one-on-one; there’s no ‘cookie cutter’ approach because everyone is unique and has unique opportunities and challenges.

We’re really focused on trying to manage expectations, and, for us, it’s been a very successful practice.”

‘Upfront’ Transparency

Dan Williams: “The conversation [that guides employee retention] begins during the interview process. It forms a part of what sort of reputation your flight department has out there in the industry. It’s about transparency.

So when you’re trying to recruit and retain talent, that same industry transparency exists. If you think that your schedulers or mechanics or pilots aren’t talking to their peers in the industry, you’re probably mistaken.

So it becomes very important in the conversation with a future employee to be very open about what you have to offer them, who you are as a company and what your priorities are. And then, importantly, put it back to them to challenge them and to be able to articulate what they’re looking for.

Because it’s often the case that people haven’t actually thought through—articulated to themselves—what they want in a job or out of life.

If they come in with a fairly well-defined list of preferences and priorities about their future, and you can tell them what you have to offer them . . . If those things line up, you’ll probably have a healthy relationship with that employee, at least for some amount of time well into the future.

But if you don’t begin that conversation on the very first day—the first time you meet them—you might be setting yourself up for a disconnect at some point in the future, and one that could see the employee decide to move on from your organization.”


Jennifer Alessio: “You create a development plan with them to see what they want to do and where they want to go year to year. It may change, but at least you’re being up front with them about giving them the tools to succeed and be competitive, not only internally—within your company—but externally, in the wider industry itself.

Cross training has been a big part of what we’re doing to build retention. Giving employees an opportunity to expand their expertise into different areas of the industry. And we want to have them train us, too, because they have a lot of skill and knowledge to offer us. So we give them that sense of ownership in the entire process—make them understand that they’re part of the bigger picture.”

Up Next—Pilot Compensation

Many flight departments today are struggling with a shortage of pilots and, as a result, I’ll be taking a long hard look at compensation practices that affect the shortage.


To read more about this event, you can also check out another blog recap entitled: Creating a sticky world culture in a “WIIFM” environment.


You’re also invited to watch the video of the panel discussion.

Attracting and Retaining Talent in a “WIIFM” Culture

Just how do you create a “sticky” culture . . . so your top talent never wants to leave? Watch this #NBAA16 panel of business aviation experts.





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