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Airlines: Communicating during a Crisis

Wayne Pearce
Former Chief Strategy and Planning Officer at Etihad Airways

Learning outcomes

  • How to be present and visible as a leader during a crisis

Executive Bio

Wayne Pearce

Former Chief Strategy and Planning Officer at Etihad Airways

Wayne has over 40 years working in the airline industry. He spent over 27 years working for Qantas Airways, Australia’s flagship carrier, where he worked his way up as a leading revenue management executive. He then led a turnaround at online travel company Gold Medal Group in the UK before joining Etihad as Chief Strategy and Planning Officer where he was responsible for pricing, capacity and fleet management for the group. In 2012, Wayne joined as CEO of Oman’s flagship carrier before moving on to advise the CEO of Thai Airways on a turnaround plan. Read more

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Interview Transcript

How do you think about communication, internally, during a crisis?Regularly get people together in teams and give them 10 to 15-minute briefings on where things are, with some PowerPoints or something on the board. Have Q&A. If you organize it, you should be able to anticipate most of the questions and they shouldn’t be able to get to it. People should be able to say, thanks very much; that’s what I was worried about. The way you get questions and find out what people fear, isn’t from a Q&A. It’s walking around and talking to them. They’re much more likely to come up to you, one to one or when you’re sitting in the lunch place and say, are you sure my job is still going to be here next month?What about persuading and influencing a team to follow your direction or guidance, as a leader?Give them feedback on what it was that you last asked them to do and how it worked and how it benefitted the company and the people and say, let’s keep doing this, because it works. Nothing beats that. Keep giving examples of how things that you’ve done, collectively, have been successful.You’ve got to be creditable. The most important thing is to be creditable, as a person. For leaders that get things done, it’s because people respect them. There’s no such thing as off time. You’re always visible. Even if you’re at the pub or you’re having a coffee with somebody, or a group of you go for a walk in the park, you’re still being looked at and you’ve got to always remember that.How do you drive that trust, with employees?Open communication, explain what you’re doing, listen to people’s objections, deal with it. Sometimes, you can’t get somebody there. That’s the way the world works. Sometimes people think, I’m just not buying in and they leave and you’ve just got to say, okay. You’ve got to accept that that churn will go on, for a whole lot of good reasons. You’ve got to get people to buy in to what you’re doing. If they can’t, it’s better that they go. They might decide that the area that you’re leading, they don’t want to work in. Maybe yours is a bit too fast-paced and they want to go somewhere that doesn’t have that demand upon them, as an example.You can’t be afraid of that. You can’t not expect turnover. The toughest thing about turnover is, when some of your best people leave. Somebody comes up to you and says, it’s been wonderful working for you, for two years. I’ve learned so much, but it means that I’ve got a bigger and better job that’s better paid. I’m leaving. All you can really do is wish them the best of luck and take pride that that happened. That’s the painful side of it all.
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