In my previous articles about the “10 most wanted qualities of an aviation technical consultant” as well as the “11 challenges in a lease transition project”, I have touched briefly on the need for proper relationship management in all such endeavors. Many of you, in your comments (mainly on LinkedIn), have pointed out that in your experience the relationship between all involved parties is absolutely crucial to success (by the way – I am very glad that so many of my LinkedIn contacts took time to comment on those articles and let me know what they thought! I really value and appreciate that. It also motivates and inspires me to keep writing – thank you!).
It therefore only makes sense to write a little bit more about the challenges and possible difficulties in managing relationships with different parties, each of which have different (very often opposing) interests.
For the purpose of this article I have assumed a scenario in which the technical consultant is employed directly by the lessor to supervise and manage a lease transition project in which an aircraft of the lessor is being returned by the previous lessee, undergoes a delivery check in a third party MRO (hired and paid for by the previous lessee) and is subsequently delivered to the new lessee. So, from the consultant’s point of view, there are four parties involved in the process and they all need to be satisfied to a degree which will permit the project to be an efficient and timely success.
General Guidelines for Successful Relationship Management
Let’s start with restating the obvious – a few generic rules which, in my opinion, are crucial for building a successful and lasting relationship with anyone and in any circumstance:
- Respect and mutual understanding.
This is the mother, father, brother, sibling and lover of every human relationship. You need to respect the people around you and you should attempt to make them respect you. This can only be done through understanding of the other party’s needs, desires, problems and fears. Therefore, clear and concise communication is crucial as only then can such understanding be achieved. Also, one has to remember to communicate one’s own needs, desires, problems and fears to the world – otherwise we cannot expect people to understand and respect us.
- Do more than what you’re paid to do.
This is actually a quote from Zig Ziglar, which in full reads “Do more than you are being paid to do, and you’ll eventually be paid more for what you do.” I think this holds especially true if you’re a freelancer of any kind, particularly an aviation consultant. In our case, we’re not concerned with the pay as much as with establishing a proper relationship. When you reach out to people, try to solve their problems, go that extra mile regardless of whether you do it for your paying customer or for any other party, eventually the relationships will start to flourish and you can expect to get what you need in return.
- Give more than you take.
This is a bit of a paraphrase of the previous point, but not quite. First try to give. First try to help. Make the first step, initiate contact, suggest solutions to problems. Only then attempt to obtain assistance, help, information from others. This will make them feel more comfortable around you, and you will not be viewed as the “collector” who just arrives to take stuff and complain that he hasn’t gotten enough.
- Deliver correctly and on time.
Seems self-explanatory. Do what you say you will do. Do it on time. First of all, you will get your job done, but second – you will appear trustworthy and professional. People want to engage in relationships with such persons.
- Be honest. Always.
There will always be failure. There will always be things which even the most brilliant consultant will not get right. We’re human – we forget things, we misunderstand things. Basically – we fail. Constantly. And that’s OK as long as we keep being honest about it. Make sure your customers and all other parties know when things have gone wrong. This way they have a chance to react and to help you. And help they will once they see that your intentions are clear.
Relationship with the Lessor – the Customer
In my little scenario it is the lessor (the leasing company which owns the aircraft) who is the paying customer. The one who hired the consultant to represent their interests and assist in bringing the transition project to a successful finish. Let’s take a look at some items, which I believe are crucial in forming a successful and mutually beneficial relationship between the lessor and the consultant:
- Transparency and detailed information.
The purpose of hiring a consultant is to have an individual on site who will represent the customer (the lessor) and all of their interests with respect to the aircraft transition process. In many cases the project manager from the lessor will be located in a different country, often several time zones away. He or she will have several other projects to attend to, while keeping current with the progress at all times. Therefore it is crucial that the lessor project manager or technical director receives current information on a continuous basis. At the same time it is important not to clutter such persons mail box with unnecessary chatter by copying them in every single email ever sent. The sweet spot needs to be figured out over time, and if you work with the same technical director on more than one project, it will become obvious what is and what is not crucial for him or her.
Bottom line, however, is that they must feel that they have full knowledge of the process. Nothing can be kept hidden from them and all information which may influence their decisions must be readily available. This involves not only emails, but also conference calls and occasional meetings in person.
- Being self-sufficient
A consultant should be his own man (or woman). You are being hired to solve problems and not create more. Your hotel, access pass, difficult times with the host company, slow Internet connection – those are your problems and the customer should be able to trust that you will solve them yourself.
At the same time, however, your decision making ability is limited and you should always make sure that you don’t make important decisions without your customer’s consent (unless you two agreed otherwise). I think this aspect is really important in a well build consultant – customer relationship, as it needs to be built on trust.
- Clear opinions
I have learned that the hard way. You’re being hired as the expert. Therefore, you shouldn’t guess or “believe” things. Something either is or is not. Your employer will expect clear and concise opinions, based on which they can make their decisions. If you don’t know the answer to a question, let them know. But don’t leave them to guess – this is not why you have been sent there.
- Always care for your customers interests
After all, the lessor is your paying customer. They are setting aside a certain amount of money to buy themselves peace of mind that their (very expensive) asset is being taken care of by a knowledgeable and experienced person. Your actions will convince them that you care about their interests. If, at any time, you believe that those interests may be jeopardized you should inform them immediately.
Keeping an eye on those four main points should ensure a good working relationship with your customer. Once the leasing company is convinced that you know what you’re doing and that you will inform them about any important issues without troubling them every fifteen minutes with some basic questions, they will be happy to leave you to your work and collect the results. At the same time, you will have the confidence that they will support you when and if you actually need their help.
Relationship with the Previous Lessee
In many cases this is the most sensitive and difficult relationship to foster. The previous lessee is returning the aircraft. Sometimes, the return will finalize their client-customer agreement with the lessor, whereas at other times that relationship will continue (due to other leases being in place). In all cases, the lessor (your customer) will want to keep a very good relationship with the operator, as no one ever knows wat the future holds in store. Therefore I believe it is vital to adhere to the following:
- Cause as little stir-up and trouble as possible
You are there to obtain the necessary paperwork, review it and point out any discrepancies. No one will like that. After all, you are evaluating the work of an entire airworthiness department and, more likely than not, you will find things which you believe are incorrect or unclear. In other words – you are evaluating someone’s work.
Try to cause as little upstir as possible. Take whatever is being handed to you and try to obtain as much information from that as possible before asking for more. Be polite and allow the operator’s staff to take their time (although within reason) to reply to your requests. Thank them (and actually mean it) when they deliver.
Most important of all – don’t play the expert in front of them. Telling them that you have “done this for over twenty years” will hardly motivate them to help you. Remember that airline staff may just be as experienced and normally will possess great knowledge in their subject matter. Don’t undervalue that.
Waving the contract around and talking about what “they” are “obliged” to do is also not very helpful unless matters have really gone that far (in which case the words “good relationship” should hardly be used anymore).
- Understand and be understood
As a professional, you must make sure that the previous lessee fully understands why you came, what you need and why. You would be surprised at how many operators have excellent knowledge about how to run an airline, but close to zero understanding of the leasing business even if their entire fleet is leased. You may encounter situations in which the operator has no knowledge of the lease contract provisions and their responsibilities. Don’t get upset, don’t get cocky, just take your time to explain. Kindly and slowly. The better they understand you, the more likely a good cooperation may start.
On another take, make sure you talk to the previous lessee about their needs and greatest problems. Perhaps they have a hard time finding a paint slot for the aircraft? Or maybe their financial situation does not allow for swift ordering of parts? These issues can be handled between the lessee and the lessor (your customer) but you need to know them if you want to bring the process to a quick success. In some cases the airline staff may not want to tell you the truth right away – once you gain their trust and build a successful relationship you are likely to get to know their internal challenges and help them as much as possible.
- You’re not that Important – They have an Airline to Run!
It amazes me how often people tend to forget about that. The end or start of a lease is but a small, random process in an airline’s life. Their day to day struggle is with AOGs, delayed flights, managing maintenance and so forth. Don’t act and don’t expect to be treated like some sort of important persona. No one will (and, in fact, no one should) drop everything just to attend to your needs. If an airline has dedicated personnel for lease returns – great, but in many cases they do not. If this happens, whether you like it or not, you will have to fit in somewhere between an engine FOD and an unplanned weekly check in Guatemala.
As much as you should be firm to obtain the information you need, try to do so the most humble way possible. Show an understanding for their work and their daily stress. Having come from an airline background, I believe that I understand well how hectic life can get in an airworthiness department. If you want a good relationship with the operator’s staff, make sure you don’t get in the way of their daily routine.
Relationship with the new lessee
Although some relationship building advice may be similar as with the previous lessee, communication with the new lessee is a completely different story. The new lessee is a new customer, who has chosen that particular aircraft out of several other offers. Most likely, they have been promised an excellent product at a price they have agreed to pay. Furthermore, they need that aircraft at a certain date in order for it to commence operations – otherwise their entire roster may go down the drain. Especially if the new lessee is a smaller airline, the acceptance will be a really big deal for them. To establish a good relationship, make sure that you treat them like it’s a really big deal for you as well (even if you “do” five transitions a year).
- The Customer is (Almost) Always King
The new lessee is the Customer with capital “C”. Indirectly also your customer, as you have been hired only because they chose to lease the aircraft from the lessor who employed you. That makes them king to a certain degree. Of course, they must accept the aircraft in accordance with the contract provisions. But treat them like a customer – help them with everything they may require help with.
- Understand and be understood
Just like with the previous lessee, make sure you clearly understand the new lessee’s needs. Are they in a hurry and need the aircraft as soon as possible? Or can they wait but need really top-notch, out of the ordinary paperwork to satisfy their very strict national authority? Are they very experienced and know exactly what they need, or are they a start-up and require some guidance and assistance? The better you understand them, the better you can help.
Just as previously, also here it is important to be well understood. Especially that in some cases the new lessee may not be yet very well established and may lack some experience and internal procedures. Rather than taking advantage of their lack of experience, help them and point out to them the really important aspects of a lease acceptance. You will have a great relationship for life, and this is crucial as the lease will last several years. Your customer will thank you for it.
- Work with them (if possible)
Unless there is clearly bad faith from the new lessee, you should work with them and not against them. Help them find discrepancies and share with them the ones which you found. After all, it is the interest of both of you to have a well delivered aircraft. For your customer, this is a high valued asset which needs to be maintained as good as possible, and for the new lessee it is something they will be selling to their passengers every day for the next few years.
In some cases playing “open book” with the new lessee may be working against you, especially if the new lessee has an interest in delaying the delivery (see point 1). However, if this is not the case, working together brings great results and develops and internal feeling of trust both personally and between companies.
This article has turned out much longer than I originally intended. If you stayed with me this far – thank you! I meant to write additionally about the relationship with the MRO, but I think I will leave this for a separate article, as it is completely different pair of shoes.
In general, I believe that it is crucial to stay honest, open and true with everyone. This way, we can build lasting relationships which will pay off over many years (after all, there aren’t all that many airlines and leasing companies out there). Good luck with your endeavors!