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Avoiding a Night in the Barrel: What businesses can learn from the US Navy Greenie Board

Blog by Adam Dorrell
February 14, 2018


It’s a dark stormy January night in the Eastern Mediterranean. You are the last of the 15 pilots of your launch still airborne. The other 14 pilots have managed to land on the pitching deck of the aircraft carrier, some taking several attempts to do so. This is the most dangerous manoeuvre for the pilot of any carrier aircraft, and after taking two failed attempts to land (they call it a “bolter”) you only have enough fuel for one more run.

As you approach the ship, which is pitching up and down so it looks at times like you are above your flight path, you hear the voice of the Landing Signals Officer (LSO) keeping you on track. The best you can do is remember your training and keep calm. You have to land on that pitching deck.

And then moments later, touchdown. The relief of having landing safely is almost overwhelming – your heartrate takes minutes to come down, and your hands are shaking even as you get your first hot drink in the ready room. Facing gentle ribbing from your fellow fliers about being the last back, it quickly turns to some empathy, and you get told that your hard time was the result of a “Night in the Barrel” and it happens to the finest fliers.

Even then, the ordeal is not finished. The LSO team visits the ready room, and in front of all the assembled squadron publicly grades you on the “pass” (landing): "High, slightly overshooting start, fly through on comeback in the middle, low at the ramp. Fair-2 wire." Ouch. And a marker is placed on the big “Greenie Board” on the wall of the Ready Room: A yellow circle. For all to see.

Back on shore…

This is just one of the stories that my colleague Rob Kerner tells about his time in the Navy. A real-life former “Top Gun”, Rob flew F14s in the US Navy, and rarely talks about it, but over a beer can sometimes be persuaded to let a few details slip. And this tale came out after a recent webinar we gave, “Relationship v Transactional Surveys”. I immediately picked up on the Greenie Board idea.

[caption id="attachment_2335" align="alignnone" width="500" caption=""Greenie Board" hanging on the wall of a Ready Room on a US Aircraft Carrier. Pilots names are down left side, dots represent the grade of each pass."]3200825338_d2acba3c37GreenieBoard.jpg[/caption]

Rob explained that the Greenie Board was the most public part of an entire process that helps pilot get safely on the deck every time.

At the end of each pass, the controlling LSO shouts out his initial assessment of the landing to a writer on the team, and after every plane has been recovered, the LSO team goes below deck and reviews the passes. It is a peer group meeting (the LSOs are also are experienced pilots). A mark is given for each pass, and written notes reviewed. Later the LSOs will visit the ready room and goes through the grades in public. It’s an objective assessment. A frank exchange with the pilot is allowed, but the grade never changes. And this is for every pilot – Rob remembered his LSO duty giving a debrief to an Admiral!

And then for public display, the grade is put on the Greenie Board, which shows the most recent passes. There is no hiding from a Yellow or a Red. It’s transparent and very public.

Pilots are assessed monthly at sea by the LSOs, who will look at trends in the results – for example, on getting on the right glideslope at 10 miles out. Rob said that for him, this coaching was essential to help him improve.

From the warship to relationship

In some ways it's crass to compare this story to business.  I am in awe of anyone who can risk their life like this. And how can customer relationships be anything like defying death on the ocean? But there are some points that I took away from his story that related neatly to what we do with CustomerGauge.

The method of having a simple mark and comment for each pass perfectly fits the Net Promoter® concept of Promoter, Passive or Detractor, together with an explaining comment. In the case of business, it’s a transaction, or customer contact in place of a “pass”.

Scores are publicly displayed for all to see – an excellent transparency that you see in the best organisations. This drives continuous improvement, and again, a feature that is found in CustomerGauge, showing the Net Promoter Score and comment by segment, by customer in real time.

And the point that I really liked is that the flyer’s career is in part judged by his/her success on the “Greenie Board”. In our world, that means the “Relationship” Net Promoter Score is made up of the individual “Transactions”. And our Waterfall charts help organisations drill into the reasons behind negative or positive sentiment.

Measure for success

We often come across clients starting a Net Promoter project that have the initial notion of measuring b2b NPS with an in-depth annual survey of a representative sample of customers, either by phone or long web-survey. Our belief has always been that continuous surveying of transactions builds a much better picture of the relationship, and showing them on real-time dashboards like the Navy Greenie Board has always been a core function of CustomerGauge. We strongly believe that business relationships are made up of these touch-points (or transactions), and large b2b customers have many individuals interacting daily with suppliers. Scoring every transaction is the way to daily scores, and continual improvement.

Rob reminded me that he is also a member of USAA (the finance organisation aimed at US servicemen and women), hailed by Fred Reichheld as an NPS “star”. Rob also raves about their service, and it got me wondering if there was something in this military metric focus (of which the Greenie board is an excellent example) that can infuse its way across the entire business. The result for USAA  is an excellent and consistent approach for customers.

I’m really inspired by this story. Watch out for part 2, where we actually take the “Greenie Board” concept and make it work in CustomerGauge for b2c “Relationship” NPS.

And if you have a few minutes, this video will give you a deep respect for what guys like Rob have done to keep the peace...

More on the LSO and grades. Picture credits: 1 2

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